Sleep Problems In Children

Sleep Problems In Children
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Sleep problems are very common among children during the first few years of life. Problems may include a reluctance to go to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, nightmares and sleepwalking. In older children, bed-wetting can also become a challenge.

Children vary in the amount of sleep they need and the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. How easily they wake up and how quickly they can resettle are also different for each child. It is important, however, that as a parent you help your child develop good sleep habits at an early age. The good news is that most sleep problems can be solved and your pediatrician can help.

Newborn infants have irregular sleep cycles, which take about 6 months to mature. While newborns sleep an average of 16 to 17 hours per day, they may only sleep 1 or 2 hours at a time. As children get older, the total number of hours they need for sleep decreases. However, different children have different needs. It is normal for even a 6 month old to wake up briefly during the night, but these awakenings should only last a few minutes and children should be able to go back to sleep easily on their own.

Here are some suggestions that may help your baby (and you) sleep better at night:
  1. Establish a regular routine. Get in the routine of waking baby at the same time each day. Develop a nighttime routine of bath time, putting on pyjamas, reading, etc. This will cause your baby to recognize when it is time for sleep.

  2. Try to keep her as calm and quiet as possible. When feeding or changing your baby during the night, avoid stimulating her or waking her up too much so she can easily fall back to sleep.

  3. Don't let your infant sleep as long during the day. If she sleeps for large blocks of time during the day, she will be more likely to be awake during the night.

  4. Put your baby into the crib at the first signs of drowsiness. Ideally it is best to let the baby learn to relax herself to sleep. If you make a habit of holding or rocking her until she falls asleep, she may learn to need you to get back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night. This may interfere with her learning to settle herself and fall asleep alone.

  5. Avoid putting your baby to bed with a pacifier. Your baby may get used to falling asleep with it and have trouble learning to settle herself without it. Pacifiers should be used to satisfy the baby's need to suck, not help a baby sleep. If your baby falls asleep with the pacifier, gently remove it before putting her in bed.

  6. Begin to delay your reaction to infant fussing at 4 to 6 months of age. Wait a few minutes before you go in to check her, because she will probably settle herself and fall back to sleep in a few minutes anyway. If she continues to cry, check on her, but avoid turning on the light, playing, picking up, or rocking her. If crying continues or begins to sound frantic, wait a few more minutes and then recheck the baby. If she is unable to settle herself, consider what else might be bothering her. She may be hungry, wet or soiled, feverish, or otherwise not feeling well.

  7. Ideally, by a few weeks of age a baby should sleep in a separate room from his parents.


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Pictured: Sleeping Children, Marble, 1874 By William Henry Rinehart (American, 1825-1874)