Julia Harris, managing director of North West Childcare, offers her advice to all those bleary-eyed parents who routinely spend their nights trying to settle their children to sleep.
As many readers will know, continually disrupted sleep can bring even the most capable, upbeat parent to his or her knees. There’s nothing quite like that desperate feeling of having to face another morning when you’re running on empty and your nerves are stretched to breaking point. A recent survey has revealed the scale of the problem: today’s mums are getting a staggering 30 per cent less sleep than their own mothers did a generation ago.
Of-course, it’s not just mums who suffer: I’ve seen many a dad propping his eyes open on the way to work, having been up bottle feeding, soothing a child woken by a nightmare…or simply disturbed by a partner who’s constantly up and down to see to little ones. And then there are the many dads who find moving to the spare room is the only surefire route to a decent night’s kip. Not brilliant for marital harmony.
My husband and I tried every trick going to get out boys to sleep – from driving endlessly around Hale until they nodded off, to a sleep clinic, doses of phenergan (which can have the opposite effect and send a child into hyper-mode) and even vallergan (a derivative of valium!) which gave our youngest son terrible nightmares. Friends of mine have tried even more drastic measures, with one admitting to spiking a bottle with a shot of Greek ouzo!
So what’s the solution? If you have a newborn baby and are still reeling from the birth whilst battling exhaustion, you might want to consider looking for outside help in the welcome shape of a maternity nurse. Aren’t they just for royalty, I hear you ask? Well no. Many, many mums have found a short stint with a maternity nurse to be an absolute lifesaver: giving the mum a break to regain her strength and spend some quality time with her other children (and husband!) – and getting the baby into a routine. Maternity nurses are also well attuned to signs of post-natal depression (suffered by one in ten mothers) and can help mums to bond well with their babies. If you don’t fancy someone living with you 24 hours a day, you can always opt for a night nurse, who’ll just come in to give you a break at nighttime.
Unfortunately, the sleep problems don’t just end when you pack away the steriliser. My nine-year-old son, Charlie, for instance, takes a frustratingly long time to get to sleep at night and often ends up nodding off well past 10.00pm. I’ve found it helps to tire him out with physical exercise after school. I also make sure that, if he is staying up late, he has to stay in his bed. Although he’s allowed to read, the Gameboy and TV are strictly off limits – so he understands that this is not fun time. I’ve actually come to realise that some children, especially as they grow older, just don’t need as much sleep as I’d thought. So don’t worry too much if your child is sleeping less but still focusing well at school and has good energy levels.
When our younger son, Sam, 6, had problems waking up repeatedly in the night, we tried everything, but it was cranial osteopathy that solved the problem in the end and I’m happy to report that Sam now sleeps through the night. This treatment is not always on the radar of traditional doctors but I’d recommend it to anyone – I’ve seen it work real miracles on children of all ages.
On a more basic level, here are some tried and tested tips on getting your child to sleep:
- Stay calm – there’s no right or wrong way to do things and every child is different.
- Ensure you differentiate between a day nap and going to sleep at night. You can do this by simply leaving the curtains open during the day and closing them at night, so children will be able to establish when to sleep for a longer period.
- Don’t let your child fall asleep on you and then put them to bed. When they wake up they will be confused and cry for you.
- Allow your child to have some fresh air during the day, for example, by taking them for a good walk. You’ll find they’ll be much more relaxed at bedtime.
- Ensure your child has a proper playtime. This will make him or her more tired when bedtime is approaching.
- Be organised in your routine, for example; bath, story, milk (for younger children) and then bed. Your child will then associate these things with bedtime and wind down slowly.
- Ensure your child has had enough to eat during the day, so that they feel satisfied and relaxed.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep for all of us!
You can contact Julia on 0161 904 0565 or go to www.northwestchildcare.co.uk.