Don’t let bad sleeping habits lie

“SHE just won’t sleep, and I’m so tired I just let her come into bed with me,” a friend confided in us last week. “I feel like I’ve failed.”

It’s a situation most parents will recognise, but not necessarily under the same circumstances.

That once-contented, angelic baby, who seemed perfectly happy to nap during the day AND sleep at night suddenly decides that night time is party time. Or whiny time. Or cry loudly at the stairgate time.

Maybe they’ve always been restless and demanding at sleep time. Determined not to nod off unless walked around, rocked in a pram, driven around in a car, anything that worked, just for a few hours. Please.

Then just baby settled into a regular sleep routine, their teeth start to break through, and they are grizzly, dribbly, and produce nappies that make your eyes water.

You think it will pass, all this Not Sleeping.

You waver in your reaction.

At first you jump and run to them every time you hear the slightest whimper.

Then, slowly, you (should) try to ignore the first murmurings. Then, if it develops into a full-throated scream, (and you’ve other children trying to sleep), don’t turn the light on, quietly reassure them, put them back into sleeping position and leave the room.

We’ve all sat outside that door, going in and out, listening to wailing that seems to go on forever. And if it’s the middle of the night, sometimes it feels the only way you’ll get any sleep, and therefore sanity, is to let them into your bed.  It’s not a road you want to travel down for long.

Our friend has the added complication of now being on her own. She looks after two under sevens, works part-time and doesn’t have family nearby. It’s fairly understandable that she’s too exhausted to try the recommended ‘ten-day habit-breaker’ – where you spend up to two weeks just putting your child back into bed everytime they wake, refusing them the shared bed they’ve become used to.

It’s a hard thing to do: you shouldn’t get into conversations, just tell them they need to sleep in their bed and keep putting them back in it. It feels cruel, but after a few days of being resolute – you are the grown-up after all – you should find they gradually settle for longer.

Her three-year-old daughter – not her first child – has formed a habit of wailing and getting in with her mum. Her older sister has always slept well, in her own bed, and doesn’t seem to get disturbed by her sibling’s night-time shenanigans.

Whatever the psychological reasoning behind this inability to sleep in her own bed, it’s something their Mum knows has to be sorted out before the habit becomes too hard to break.

We’ve had periods when I’ve ended up sleeping in the spare bed with a grumpy, disobedient, usually poorly toddler, because it’s just been too exhausting to keep intermittently coming in and out.

But we have always had a stairgate over the little ones’ bedroom door, so they couldn’t just wander into our room. Partly to stop them thinking it was alright to do so, and partly because it always scares the bejesus out of me when a toddler appears silently by your bed in the middle of the night.

The exhausted mum-of-two is now going to try to put her daughter to bed by at least 7.30pm each night (somehow bedtimes became irrelevant when she was up all night anyway). I suspect this may help, if she’s resolute and doesn’t let it slide. A routine (wash, teeth, story) is important but not always possible (regularity is the key).

If things don’t improve she’s going to use half-term, when no one has to get up for school or work, to ‘train’ her daughter back into her own bed. It may not be easy, but in the long run, it should mean a better night’s sleep for all involved. I wish her luck.

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