Conditions and treatments
Sleep is essential for balance and development. Normal everyday functioning and academic progress entail a good night’s sleep, since a child, who has not slept enough the previous night, is tired, irritable, hyperkinetic and inattentive throughout the following day. Understandably, many parents hold considerable worries regarding their child’s sleep pattern and seek professional advice acknowledging the impact bad sleep habits could have on his/her physical and mental health.
Is my child’s sleep pattern a problem? It could be if the erratic sleep pattern has become an obstacle to the child’s behaviour and a reason for frictions between you and your child. As noted above, lack of sleep due to difficulties (falling/staying asleep/waking up very early) provokes an inability to concentrate, behavioural problems (moody child) and constant complaints that eventually affect relationships and family life.
Research on developing ‘good sleeping habits’, as the above term denotes, has provided the following tips on how to enhance good sleeping promoting general health. It is highly recommended that families should implement the following strategies to improve sleep since they represent long-term solutions for relevant difficulties.
On the contrary, medication for sleep difficulties may be effective for a brief period, but there is the risk that the child will become tolerant of it and the problem will be prolonged and perpetuated. Sometimes, ‘sleep hygiene’ strategies can be combined with medication with the view that the sleeping pills will be stopped after a while, when the child gets into good sleep habits.
Advice for ‘difficult children’
Some children cannot get into a sleep routine and keep on waking up during the night or do not fall asleep at all calling the parent(s) to go to them. Some others leave their beds wandering in the house looking for company, interaction or play. In these events, guide the child back to bed and try to re-settle him/her gently but firmly by being ‘boring’ as described above and by repeating the behaviour that your child has associated with the definite end point that signals sleeping time (say ‘goodnight’ or turn off the lights). Do not hesitate to repeat as necessary.
Despite the above strategies, some children will not settle without the parent(s). In this case, stay with the child in his/her bedroom, but gradually increase the distance between you and him/her for ex.: sit beside the child without cuddles, sit on the bed near child’s feet and gradually move away, stand beside the bed, sit on a chair in the room, go and stand near the door, stand outside the room using your voice to reassure the child, etc. Hopefully, at a point, he/she will no longer need you to be there for him/her in order to fall asleep.
However, all children are different and each one of them will respond differently to the above strategies. Some children will settle easily into a sleep routine, while others will need more time and effort. We must have patience and allow time and space for the child to develop the desired sleep hygiene.