Sleeping When You Have Small Children

A disturbed night’s sleep causes memory problems and difficulty in learning, creating a whole lot of problems at work, in relationships and in all areas of your life. How do parents of young child get their child to sleep through the night so they are their best the next day?

Any parent of a preschooler can tell you there is nights when they get a tap on their shoulder that can’t be ignored – no matter how hard you try. Your child has had a bad dream and is frightened, or they had a ‘monster’ in their room and want to sleep with you.

If this interruption is just an occasional thing it’s not bad to take the child in and cuddle with him/her for a while to reassure them, and then return them to their own bed. If they are ill it won’t hurt to let them sleep with you, but make them understand it’s a special occasion. You have to keep in mind that once you allow it they are going to try to keep trying to have you let them again. Usually after a little reassurance they will get back to sleep right away, and so can you.

Since no child, or adult for that matter, truly sleeps through the entire night without waking up once or twice, it’s nothing to worry about and will not affect his or hers or your, performance the next day. “Night awakenings are a normal part of our sleep cycle, but good sleepers know how to fall back asleep without help,” says Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep.

 If, however, it becomes a nightly routine neither of you are going to get the rest you need in order to learn new things or function the next day. Toddlers and preschoolers especially are not skilled yet at mastering the art of falling back to sleep without help. Sleep disturbances are common in 3-6 year olds, who tend to have more nightmares and sleep problems than others – especially if their normal routine has been disturbed, like during a vacation, illness, or change of bedtime.

The best way to get a child to sleep is to make sure he/she has a nightly routine set up. Give them a warm bath, don’t give them any sweets after 6 p.m., read them a story and tuck them in. Children need more sleep to grow and for their brains to develop than adults, so make their bedtime earlier than yours – like around 7:30-8:00. This gives you time to unwind and relax as well before you go to bed.

Gradually phase out the crutch – pacifier, stuffed animal, blankie or lullaby toy. If they wake up and the crutch is gone you will have problems getting them back to sleep if they can’t immediately find it. “When you put your child to sleep, leave her bedroom exactly as it will be in the middle of the night,” Mindell says. If you plan to turn the hall light off when you retire, turn it off now. White noise or soft music is fine — provided it plays all night.” Make sure you leave the room before your child falls asleep so he/she doesn’t wake up and wonder why you are not there.

Stick to a routine as much as possible. It’s easy to give in at 3a.m. when they are crying for you and you are tired, but it will be better for both of you if you haul yourself out of bed and take him back to his own bed. Give him a big kiss and tuck him in again, then leave. “If your child is sick or has a particularly bad dream, you may decide it’s okay to bend the rules. But,” says Mindell, “if you camp out in her bedroom rather than allowing her into yours, it’ll probably be less of a setback.”

It’s normal for a youngster to develop a fear of the dark, so it’s all right to leave a hall light on, or get a small night light. If they are afraid of monsters, let them help you do a monster search before bedtime to reassure them – check under the beds or in the closets and toy chests. You can also give them some “security” monster spray (fill a spray bottle with water) that they can keep in the corner of their bed, just in case.
 
Consider sharing your bedroom – but not your bed. “When our 3-year-old daughter refused to sleep alone, we put her toddler bed in our room and let her sleep there,” says Alison Bard, a Kirkland, Wash., mother of two. You can also use a sleeping bag or nap mat for these late night visits. After a few nights your child will probably like the feel of his/her own bed as opposed to the floor.

Getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge from the minute you bring the child home from the hospital until they start school, and most parents walk around like zombies for years. This is not good for the mental health of the parent or the child, so setting limits and routines as soon as possible will get everyone into a routine that will make their lives easier.

 

 

Sources:

babycenter.com – Dealing with late night visits from your child: http://www.babycenter.com/0_dealing-with-late-night-visits-from-your-child_64933.bc?scid=preschooler_20111025:3&pe=MlV3emltM3wyMDExMTAyNQ.

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