Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We all know this, and yet as parents we somehow expect ourselves to go for months or years without sleep and still function (and even be wonderful, calm, kind people). I’m sorry, but if specially trained soldiers crack under this particular form of torture, what makes you think you will be any different?
So if your two, three, four or even seven year-old is still keeping you up at night, let’s look at some possible questions you can ask to get to the bottom of the problem.
Now step one would be to make sure there are no serious health complications keeping the child awake. A quick trip to the GP can set your mind at rest and get you started on the following investigations!
I always start by looking at the kids’ diets… what are they eating? Are they eating more carbohydrates than protein for instance? I would start by cutting out all sugar and refined carbs (wheat, flour, baked stuff etc) and increase fat and protein intake especially at night. It can also help to give a Magnesium supplement before bed (you can get these in a delicious syrup for kids, but please check with your healthcare advisor before adding supplements to your child’s diet).
Do you have a proper routine that you stick to daily? i.e. Dinner at a certain time followed by bath, story and bed? Do you start winding down in the afternoons? A consistent routine can help a child to settle more quickly and to adapt to change more easily.
How much TV are they exposed to? Television is highly stimulating. Definitely cut out TV right before bed (a bedtime story is much more calming), but you can even try cutting this out altogether and see if it makes a difference.
Have they always slept less than other babies? Do they still have a daytime nap? With an older child you can try cutting this out – if they make it through the afternoon in a generally happy state, then leave the nap. If not, add it back in. My kids stopped their daytime nap at 18 months and were perfectly happy without it (and then slept well at night), so don’t always believe that a child needs a daytime nap until they are 4 or 5. What time do they go to bed? What time do they wake up? Do they then seem tired or ok? Some children need less sleep, and putting them to bed before they’re ready is a recipe for disaster!
If your child is keeping you awake tossing and turning in your bed, then you need to ask… Have they always slept in your bed? Do they feel safe in their own room? Is there something they need to help them feel more comfortable/safe there? Keep in mind that as adults we generally share a room with a partner and even then we still sometimes get scared in the night and yet we expect a 5-year-old to cope on their own. Do they go to sleep in their own room and then come to you? It may help to lie down with them in their own room until they fall asleep and then do this every time they wake in the night and come to your room – I know it’s time consuming and frustrating especially if you’re sleep deprived, but worth it in the long run. Or if you’d like to keep your child in your room, but still get some sleep, consider having their cot or mattress in your room but not necessarily having them in your bed!
There are so many possible factors involved when it comes to children not sleeping, that it is worth doing some investigating to find out where things have gone awry. Hopefully these questions will help you to get started. It is then also worth examining your own belief systems around what is enough sleep, when kids should sleep and where, and whether your needs are less important than theirs.
Happy families are a balancing act of making sure that both the parents and children’s needs are being met, and your need for sleep is essential not only to your own well-being, but to the well-being of the entire family. Keep this in mind as you investigate.
And sleep tight!