Help! My child will not go to sleep
Does your child have trouble falling asleep or do they wake up in the night and stay awake forever? Here are some solutions to get bedtime back on track.
Generally speaking, children aged 1-5 need 12-13 hours of sleep a day divided between nap and night.
Children’s sleep needs obviously vary from one kid to the next, but around the age of 2 they can start to experience night terrors, nighttime awakenings that last longer than expected or may categorically refuse to fall asleep at bedtime.
What can be done to help a child whose nighttime routine is upside down?
You’re not alone!
Sleep disorders in children happen more often than you might think.
So you have nothing to feel guilty about and there is no need to question your family’s bedtime routine if your child refuses to fall asleep or wakes up frequently during the night.
Indeed, according to researcher Joseph A. Mindell, 10 to 30% of children suffer from pediatric insomnia. Little ones are unable to fall asleep without the same routine, for example, falling asleep in their parents’ bed, snuggling with their favourite stuffie or hearing their favourite song.
Nighttime awakenings affect around 20% of kids.
So take some deep breaths and be patient. They should grow out of this phase over time. Everything often gets back to normal around the age of 4.
Goal: sleep alone
Kids learn through observation and repetition.
If you are always there, they will want to repeat this pattern and have you close by every night. However, if they can successfully fall asleep without you, you know they are able to close their eyes and drift off when alone.
Your little one has to learn how to sleep alone, even if does cause some separation anxiety.
A bedtime ritual is therefore essential and the key to success so your child can effectively conquer their fears and fall asleep without your constant presence by their side.
The bedtime ritual can be a touchy subject, a bit like breastfeeding. This is why we suggest some bedtime training methods that you may find useful. There is no one-size-fits-all model here.
Pick one that matches your values, personality and parenting model. Nobody knows your child like you do which makes you the best person to interact with them and gently guide them to a restorative sleep.
This method requires a lot of patience and perseverance. Remind yourself that consistency makes all the difference.
Put your child to bed in their own bed while they are still awake and then leave.
If they cry and call out for you, wait 5 minutes before returning to their room. Comfort and console them, without taking them out of bed or lying down with them.
If the same scenario repeats itself, wait 10 minutes this time before acting. Wait 15 minutes the next time until your child is asleep.
Unlike the 5-10-15 method, you don’t leave your child alone while they fall asleep.
Remain in their room while they fuss, but stay away from them seated on a chair.
Leave the room when they are in the arms of Orpheus.
Little by little, move the chair further away from your child, out of their field of vision, until the point where the chair is positioned outside their room.
Use the calendar method here, like you would for potty training.
Reward and congratulate your child to motivate them to take control of their fear of falling asleep alone. Support them when they face their fear and gain a certain degree of independence.
A reward board works quite well with some kids. Get them to help you fill it in, which will increase their motivation.
Answer your child every time they cry and call out for you. What changes is your level of involvement before you leave the room, which decreases with every subsequent visit after lights out.
Here are a few examples of what this approach might look like:
- The parent gradually moves from giving a hug, to a simple touch, to a comforting word.
- The parent encourages their child to get a drink of water from the cup on their dresser themselves, instead of handing it to them.
- The parent explains to the child that they will return to check on them regularly, as long as they do not get out of bed.
When to seek professional help?
As the sleep disturbances of little ones have a domino effect on parents, don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional in the following cases:
- You are concerned that your child’s sleep issues are related to sleep apnea, anxiety or depression.
- You or your partner suffer from insomnia and lack of sleep resulting in ramifications for your mental and physical well-being.
Discuss this issue with a healthcare professional if you have tried everything and there is still no sign of improvement after at least three months.
Look for the following signs to determine whether your child’s sleep is being disturbed:
- Your child wakes up more than twice a night.
- Nighttime awakenings last longer than 20 minutes.
- Your presence is required during these episodes.
- These nighttime awakenings happen more than four or five nights a week.