Achieving sound sleep

Achieving sound sleep

TODDLER CARE

Are you a young mother struggling to put your baby to sleep every day?  Mary Chelladurai offers expert advice

UNIQUE QUALITY A child’s temperament plays an  important role in determining his/her sleep pattern.

“One of the greatest rewards of being a parent is to slip into the child’s room and to see the cosy, delicious look of a sleeping child, the regular breathing, the soft skin, the curly hair”
— Sleeping through the night - the Brazelton Way  


As parents, we have come to devise several ways to get a child to sleep during night. For instance, giving your baby a bath in the late evening, is known to lull the child into sleep. But when these tricks bring little or no response, many young mothers call out for help, “why does it have to be like this, why can’t this be easy?”

Sleep is most essential. Research has shown how important adequate sleep is to the health and development of a child. Children who get sufficient amounts of sleep every night function better throughout the day — they are more alert and their concentration, performance and memory power are better than those who do not get enough sleep. But every child has a unique sleep pattern too.

Child psychologists and pediatricians such as Dr Benjamin Spock, T Berry Braselton, Kristina Murrin, Dr Paul Martin, Dr Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara C Unell, in their books on child development, have elaborated  the basic elements of good sleep and temperament traits which tend to make sleeping far more difficult. Let’s discuss some of them to ensure healthy sleep patterns in our children and the temperament traits that make sleeping difficult to achieve.

*Ensure calm and safe feelings: Many toddlers and young children cannot sleep because their bodies are in a state of ‘high alert’ during bedtime. A skipped nap, an anticipated event and change in schedule, family tensions — all of these can throw a child into ‘alert mode’. When this happens, extra calming measures are needed throughout the day.

*Give a positive stroke for a good night’s sleep: This begins at the start of the day. Greet the child warmly when he/she rises and lead him/her through the routines followed by an unhurried family breakfast. Such interactions actually slow the heart and pulse rates and act as a buffer against the day’s stresses and help towards a good night’s sleep.

*Create a cosy corner: Ensure that, at bedtime, the child’s room is a cosy corner for the child. The room should be spacious, neat and well arranged. These factors will help the toddler unwind and achieve deep sleep. Offer the child a soothing touch, a back scratch and a gentle massage.

*Understand your child’s body clock: The child’s body clock is the control centre for the ‘sleep-wake’ cycle. It signals the body to be awake during the day and asleep at night. A child might need help in setting his/her body clock. Cues such as bedtime routines encourage good sleeping habits in your child. Typical bedtime routine for a child should include a light snack, a relaxing bath and dry-off, getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a bedtime story followed by ‘lights off’. Stick to the same bedtime every night. An occasional change in the bedtime routine for a relative’s visit, a holiday, a weekend may be exceptions, but for the most part, a consistent routine is best.

*Understand the temperament: Some kids inherit temperaments that sometimes act as a hindrance to sleep. Like sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, lights, textures and emotions. Their reactions are often more intense and some may be slower to adjust to change than others. They need extra soothers and calm handling. Temperament traits in children will help categorise children into different sleep patterns.

*The intense child: He/she is highly emotional. This child needs adult support to calm down. The child benefits greatly from a soothing touch or listening to stories while sitting on the care-giver’s lap. He/she requires time to unwind before bed.  His/her sleep and nap times must be protected because if you miss the sleep window, the child struggles fiercely to control her/his strong emotions.

*The sensitive child: He/she notices everything, from a slight noise to a difference in taste or texture, to changing sights and the emotions of those around. First, believe your sensitive child when he/ she confesses to something that is bothering him/her.  Having a “nest” to sleep in is particularly important to the child.  Blankets and pillows need to smell and feel right.  Position the bed in a safe corner, rather than leaving it floating in the middle of the room.

*The slow-to-adapt child: He/she has difficulty shifting from one thing to another. This child needs consistent bed and waking time to help set his/her body clock for sleep. In this case, preparation is the key.  The child needs fair warning and cues that bedtime is approaching so that he/she can begin the transition. Cue the child with activities such as dimming the lights, pulling the shades and putting away toys.  Changing pre-bedtime routine is upsetting to the child.  Build the time for the child to awaken slowly in the morning.

*The irregular child: He/she is unpredictable, can never fall asleep at the same time of the day and can be sleep-deprived. Though he/she will try to resist it, the irregular child needs to be gently nudged toward a schedule. Create a routine and provide gentle but firm support to help the child move toward a regular sleep pattern. Once a schedule has been set, stick to it.

*The spirited child: He/she is full of spirit, lively and animated. He/she finds it  more difficult to switch into sleep mode than his/her more calm or mild peers. This child is well-known for his/her “short window” for falling asleep.  If the parent misses this window, the child’s system will charge up again. An unfailing schedule helps the child to “earmark” that window and shut down his/her activities. Parents should make sure children are never left to cry themselves to sleep. Their distress levels are real and will only rise if left untended. It is advisable for parents to spend more time helping the child to fall asleep.

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