Yvonne Walus takes a peek at the possibilities of better sleep habits for your tamariki.
Some children are good sleepers, while other need to learn how to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep through the night. Bedtime woes are very common, so know that you’re not alone.
When kids don’t stay in bed
Kids may have a genuine reason for getting out of bed: they may be sick, scared or thirsty. If all’s well, make sure they feel safe (blankie, soft toy, night lamp) and that the room is not too noisy or too bright. Remind them of the family rule: they have to stay in bed until morning unless there’s an emergency. If your words don’t work, take your child gently by the hand and put them back in bed. Stay just long enough to say: “You are safe, I love you, see you in the morning”. Be firm, friendly and consistent, because it’s a battle of wills and your child is testing the boundaries.
Having a bedtime routine, perhaps as a chart with pictures, might reinforce the message: first bath, then a drink, brush teeth, go to the toilet/fresh nappy, bedtime story, a goodnight kiss, and then stay in bed.
If your child gets up in the middle of the night, again check that they’re not sick and that all their needs are met (toilet, drink, cuddle), then take them back to bed. If this becomes a regular thing, here’s something to try: just before you go to bed (presuming it’s several hours after your child), pop into their room and give them a little kiss or stroke their back, just enough to stir them a bit without waking. This will break up their sleep cycle, making them fall back into a deep sleep and hopefully sleep through the rest of the night. In the morning, praise your child for staying in bed – it’s a big achievement they should be proud of.
Bedwetting is involuntary: the bladder and the brain simply fail to talk to one another well enough for the brain to wake up the child when it’s time to go to the toilet. It’s certainly not a reflection of your parenting skills and it’s not the child’s fault. Although often mistaken for a psychological problem, the causes of bedwetting are almost always physical. Bladder control is a biological development that cannot be hurried: your child will simply outgrow it when the time is right. Meanwhile, make friends with pull-ups, over-the-sheet waterproof mattress protectors or bedwetting alarms.
Night terrors and nightmares
Nightmares are bad dreams and they usually happen early in the morning. They are intense and realistic, and they usually become increasingly upsetting until the child wakes up. The child will remember the dream, and they’ll probably be too scared to go back to sleep in case the nightmare returns, so they may need a few minutes of comfort and reassurance from you before they settle.
Night terrors are different. They usually occur 2-3 hours into the sleep cycle. The child looks petrified and may appear awake, although they are in deep sleep and won’t respond to your attempts at comforting. Causes remain unknown, though night terrors tend to happen to overtired children during periods of change or stress.
Sleep regression is a change in your child’s sleep pattern, such as dropping daytime naps, sudden difficulty falling asleep or abnormal waking at night. This change is commonly (but not always) caused by:
- developmental milestones (learning to sit, walk, talk)
- a growth spurt (babies and younger children will feel hungry in the middle of the night)
- teething or growing pains
- modifications to your child’s schedule, for example, holidays or starting day-care.
Before your child turns one, their sleeping habits are unformed and it’s best to nurse or rock them to back sleep whenever they fuss. If they experience sleep regression around the 12-month mark, increase their daytime activity to tire them out before bedtime. 18-month sleep regression tips include sticking to the bedtime routine and acknowledging your child’s growing independence by allowing them choice of pyjamas, bedtime stories and cuddly toys. At 2 years old, regressions are usually triggered by change or fear of new things, so offer plenty of attention, love and reassurance during the day. In addition, be sureto talk to your child: acknowledge their fears and reassure them that everything is alright. The good news about sleep regression is that – as always – this too shall pass.
How much sleep does your child need?
In the words of Becky Mansfield, a certified child development therapist: “Your child will be healthier, do better in school, be more pleasant throughout the day, and just feel better overall, if they are getting enough sleep”. So, how much is enough?
1 – 2 years = 11 – 14 hours (this may include one or two naps during the day)
3 – 4 years = 10 – 13 hours (this may include a daytime nap)
5 – 6 years = 10 – 12 hours
6 – 12 years = 10 – 11 hours