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Why Your Child Can’t Sleep
Whenever I get together with other families with young children, almost without exception, there will be one or two parents who struggle with their child’s sleep. Issues range from frequent awakenings to too frequent feedings to sleeping in the parent’s bed. It’s no surprise, then, why so many adults in this country suffer from a myriad of sleep problems. Perhaps this is also the reason why sleep aids are one of the most popular drugs in this country and why children as young as 7 are prescribed sleep aids to help them fall asleep. Although it’s hard to admit, America has become the land of the free and the home of the… sleepless.
Tips to Get Your Baby to Sleep
Nowadays, many households with young children endure daily battles with sleep. It is not that the parents are not equipped with the right information. in fact, the number of resources and books that focus on how to get your child to sleep has doubled if not tripled over the last 2 to 3 years. Insomnia is no longer the problem reserved for the elderly and restless. It is now one of the most important problems that parents of young children face every night.
Ten years ago, with our first child Jonas, we only had about a third of the resources we have now to get your child to sleep. At that time, Dr. Richard Ferber’s technique was in vogue. Despite its slight tinge of 50’s style rigidity and inflexibility, his concepts made the most sense to us and we agreed with his main principle that children should and can be taught how to soothe themselves back to sleep. Basically, “Ferberization” is a gradual desensitizing process. Using this technique, we were able to teach Jonas to sleep through the night (10 hours) around 4 months. Since then, this method of teaching our other two children to sleep has been a lifesaver for both their health and our sanity.
Of course just because this method worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Every baby and what pleases parents is different. Even for us, there were nights when my wife cried outside the bedroom door, together with the baby, conflicted by her instinct to immediately explode to comfort our child and her desire to teach the baby to calm himself back to sleep as prescribed by. Dr. Ferber.
What finally did it for us was that we believed and desperately needed a good night’s sleep. As simple as that sounds, we knew then what so much research and study tells us now: That poor sleep can lead to a host of health problems if not managed early.
As parents of young children it is sometimes difficult to tell how much sleep your child needs. Some people say that it is better to let nature take its course, for the child to determine for themselves how long or short they need to sleep. In my case, this would never work because our oldest would only sleep, before Ironing, for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
With children, going natural, like breastfeeding rather than bottle feeding, cooking your own baby food instead of giving them ready-made food in jars is infinitely better. However, sometimes, given certain situations, parents have to assess from time to time that it costs to keep those ideals. It is important, in other words, not to lose the forest for the trees.
When Sleep Eludes
When my brother had his first child, the situation was very different. In the four years since I had my oldest son, the pro-baby movement was in full swing. At the time, most pediatricians considered it okay to suggest that their child sleep in two to three hour bursts even at night. What was more important was that the child be breastfed on demand-even at 9 to 12 months when solid foods should have decreased the frequency of these late night feedings.
His older daughter, as a result often slept in their bed until the age of 3-4. It was much easier for my sister-in-law to nurse her right then and there, to get a few more minutes of sleep, rather than getting up every 2 to 3 hours to get the baby out of the baby. Even now, at the age of 6, my niece is not a “good sleeper”. Even worse, her sister, who just turned 3, has recently been waking up several times during the night.
Another woman I met is experiencing similar issues with her 8 month old. Her baby recently woke up two or three times a night to nurse even though he was sleeping through the night at 3 months. Yet another couple I recently met complained that their 5 year old still wakes up 3-4 times every night. In general, children should be able to sleep through the night after 3-6 months. It is obvious that these guidelines are not the norm.
Pediatric Problems Linked to Poor Sleep
Believe me when I say that I am the last person to make any moral judgments about parents with sleep deprived children. If anything, I wrote an entire book explaining why and how adults and children alike are sleeping less and less, find out more at, http://www.sleepinterrupted.com.
It’s not that what they’re doing is wrong, but that poor sleep habits for the child ultimately affect not only the parents, but studies have shown that sleep problems as a young child have been linked to various serious health problems later in life.
One such study showed that the presence of sleep problems at ages 3-8 strongly predicted the initiation of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana later in life for boys and alcohol for girls. Another Finnish study showed that perceived fatigue was associated with use of psychoactive substances in adolescents. Other studies have shown that sleep problems are related to anxiety and depression in teenagers. Children with sleep-breathing problems also had a higher incidence of inattention and hyperactivity.
How to Get Your Baby to Sleep
The most important thing to start with when helping your child develop good sleep hygiene is to develop a sleep routine that you both can stick to consistently. Meal times, nap times and bed times should be as close to a schedule as possible. As any parent of young children can tell you, one late night out with the baby or a bad cold can seriously throw off not only the child’s sleep patterns, but those of the entire family. Last month when Kathy and I were at the movies (our kids were with our nanny) I was disturbed to see so many babies and young toddlers out with their parents watching an action packed movie at 11:30 at night. Worst of all, they ate popcorn and drank caffeinated soda.
Nowadays, reducing any form of stimulation just before bed can be a challenge. Cell phones, computers, cable TV, and all the noisy and annoying children’s toys can be difficult to control completely. But even the activities they do during the day can affect their sleep. One recent study showed that for every hour a child is sedentary during the day, whether watching TV or on the computer or even reading, it takes an additional three minutes to fall asleep at night. A related ad hoc study showed that children who were more active during the day, playing outside or involved in sports activities, fell asleep faster and slept longer at night than children who were more inactive. Simply put, turn off the TV if you want your child to sleep better.
Sugar is also blamed for various health and sleep problems today. It’s common sense to avoid a brownie or soda right before bed. Eating healthier in general can promote better sleep overall.
Once your child has passed the toddler stages, she should be able to sleep through the night after a good dinner. But don’t feed him right before bed. Eating too close to bedtime affects hormones that affect weight, appetite and metabolism. This applies even to adults. In these situations, if you have even a small sleep-breathing problem (24% of men and 9% of women), then juices are sucked into the throat, not only waking you up, but causing various throat symptoms such as sore throat, after. -nasal drip, chronic cough and hoarseness.
An underlying sleep-breathing problem can also be a major cause of sleep problems especially between the ages of 3-6 years. Large tonsils and adenoids are very common at this age, and if your child’s breathing is somehow labored, or if he snores or is a mouth breather, consult your pediatrician about this, especially if your child seems tired all the time, or has difficulty staying focused or concentrating during the day. If either parent snores or stops breathing, then there is even more reason to suspect an underlying sleep-breathing problem.
For the many other various problems that may arise, help is available. Go beyond the general information available on sites like WebMD or the Mayo Clinic website. Invest in books, DVDs or professional advice for your child’s sleep needs, as well as your own. Set a good example by following good sleep habits yourself. Ask your friends who have been successful what works for them and don’t give up. Trust me, being able to get a good night’s sleep is consistently worth the effort.
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