Sleep Consultant Lucy Wolfe Shares Her Tips On How To Get Your Children To Sleep
Today marks World Sleep across the globe so to mark the occasion, we have spoken to Lucy Wolfe – a full time sleep consultant and Mother of four young children. Lucy specialises in infant and child sleep problems that parent’s experience and need assistance in solving.
If your child is having trouble sleeping, Lucy has the top tips to help you solve the issue at hand.
Her experience can help you identify areas affecting your child’s sleep and gently unlock your child’s natural ability to sleep through the night and nap during the day, without leaving them to cry alone, with many years experience and a proven track record of success.
We spoke to Lucy about the best way to overcome your child’s bad sleeping habits, and the ways in which you can change their sleeping routine for the better.
We know that a lot of parents have trouble getting their children to sleep properly. Can you tell us why it is that many young children will often sleep all day and then stay awake all night?
Sleep difficulties have a variety of presentations-resistance to bed or nap time, frequent night awakenings, long wakeful periods overnight, short day time sleeps for example, these problems exceed the typical waking that every new parent can anticipate.
Children’s sleep is highly complex with many influences such as nutrition, exercise and environmental factors. Coupled with these factors, sleep can be altered by the way a child achieves sleep and how their sleep is maintained-this means that if a child falls asleep with support from a parent such as being held or fed and transferred to their cot already asleep, then they are more likely to require parental input through the night, which may result in disrupted sleep for all involved.
Parents of young children can expect that they may not “sleep through” the night without parental assistance all of the time, but as they head towards 12 months of age, then it is not unreasonable for a child to be able to sleep some or all of the night without requiring a parent.
Biological time-keeping has a immediate impact on sleep also, so children who have irregular and/or late wake up and bedtimes, may also have a nap sequence that is attempted when they are already overtired, and this may have a negative impact on sleeping patterns.
Children who have a wake time no later that 7.30am and who nap well according to their age group and in turn go to bed at a reasonable time, will be more likely to have a deep and rested night time sleep. Although some parents will report that they have a good day structure, sometimes the structure is not right for that particular child and alternative adjustments to bed and nap times can make a significant difference.
Can you reverse this and if so, how?
Sleep can always be improved on, often by making small changes. However, some issues are deeply ingrained and take more time patience and effort on the part of both the child and parents. By having a solid sleep foundation-observing a regular wake and bedtime and in turn an age appropriate feeding and sleep balance to the day.
Creating a sleep-inducing environment and a calm bedtime routine are all a good place to start. It may also be necessary for some children to learn how to actually achieve sleep without as much parental dependency both at bedtime and throughout their night time sleep cycles as well-all of which can be mastered in a gentle and considered way that suits the individual family unit.
It is not necessary to leave your child to cry alone in order to establish a better sleeping pattern and it is never just about sleep, we have to have a holistic approach in order to see improvements.
How important is enough sleep to children – how does it benefit their development?
Sleep is important to the maturation of the brain and the central nervous system and as well as future cognitive, temperament and psychomotor development. Lack of sleep in children can lead to irritability, frustration, moodiness and emotional problems and a decreased capacity for memory attention, learning and reasoning. Without unnecessarily adding to parental concerns, it may be a good idea to include sleep for your child as a priority equal to nutrition and fitness.
Should you let a child cry in the cot or should you take them up and comfort them?
As a child sleep practitioner, I do not advocate cry intensive techniques to try and improve sleep. I recommend that parents comfort and support their children if they are helping them to learn to sleep in a new way in their cot or bed. Although, your child is likely to protest when you embark on a sleep learning exercise, you should respond lovingly to them at all times.
Is it ever too late to start a new sleeping routine if your child is two and a half and doesn’t sleep? Is it too late to get them into a routine then?
It is never too late to improve the sleep dynamic in your household. I work with children up to the age of 6 and even after this time improvements can still be made, even if you feel you have already “tried everything” as many parents do, there will be an individual solution to your problem provided there are no underlying medical issues.
What tips do you have for any parents having trouble with getting their children to sleep?
- Regular sleep times are key. Waking and going to sleep around the same time every day helps to regulate the body clock and promote good sleep. However all wake and sleep times are not equal and the time that your baby wakes and sleeps has a significant impact on the quality of that sleep and therefore the duration. Waking by 7.30am is a good anchor to help get the day off to the right start and most young children benefit from a bedtime in the region of 7-8pm. Remember, bedtime is “asleep” time, not the time you start the process!
- Ensure appropriate day time sleep. Young children require day time naps. It can be challenging, but most children- as much as 80%- still require day sleep at age 3 and beyond. If your baby is under slept during the daytime then you may find that they wake more frequently over night, and even stay awake for long periods overnight as a result. It’s a good idea to fill their day time sleep quota to promote great night time sleep.
- Read the language for sleep. Knowing your baby’s sleepy cues can enable the onset of sleep, eliminating the fight out of going to sleep. Very often parent’s misinterpret sleep signal and therefore end up trying to rest an over stimulated little person. Brief eye rubs, decreased activity, staring into space often represent sleep readiness and would be the optimum time to begin a sleep time. Intense eye rubs, big yawing, agitation and fussing are typically too far gone and may either cause a resistance to sleep and/ or short naps and frequent night awakenings.
- Get out and about. Filling the fresh air and outdoor activity quota is important. Light plays a role in regulating sleeping patterns and exposure to natural light specifically in the afternoon has been shown to help improve sleep. Aiming for 30 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon is a good guide.
- Have a feeding and sleeping balance to the day. Young children need feeding and sleeping frequently throughout the day. Once solid food is established normally beyond 6 months there may be a better structure to the day with your milk feeds factored in also. Most children won’t sleep well if they are hungry, so make sure they are getting enough to eat and drink of the right kind of food and that they are well hydrated also.
Find out more on Lucy’s website – Sleep Matters.ie HERE