Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Awh, sleep! Coming from a mom blogger, I think that sleep issues are one of the most common complaints I hear about with our kids, second to handling temper tantrums/acting out.  Sleep issues as a parent are the topic of so many conversations and we always hear, "why are children are so hard to put to bed and stay asleep (or stay in their own beds)?"

When you are dealing with sleep problems in children you often feel you are the only one out there having to tackle this. But let me remind you that it is the reason there are oh, say, 100 books on the shelves at bookstores about this very issue. You are definitely not alone.

I'm going to jump right in with my experiences as a nanny. So, every baby or child I have put to bed over the years, would always wake up at one point while I was still there babysitting before the parents got home or during nap times. Whether it was a 4 month old or a 4 year old, they would all wake up. What I am trying to say here is that every child has a sleep issue- they do not all peacefully sleep without a peep every single night- all parents have to deal with sleep issues if not weekly, then nightly!

While I was a nanny I continuously would think how much I as an adult would give anything to be able to take a nap on a whim, or go to bed at a reasonable hour. But of course children and babies will not realize this until they are adults and then gone will be the days where they are allowed to drop everything and take a nap.

America, we need a mandatory siesta! We would all be happier people and I think it would solve a lot of the violent crimes out there, not to mention the parents who have become so psychotic due to sleep deprivation! All kidding aside, sleep is something we all need and can cause so many issues if children (and us parents) are not getting it.

For newborns and sleep, I think that the most pressing issue that parents of newborns are worried about is whether or not their baby is going to sleep through the night. They all think, "are we going to be the lucky ones who have a perfect sleeper, or the ones whose baby wakes every hour or is up at 3am and will not go back to sleep."  I have met so many lucky moms that say their babies started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks to 3 months. They did not have to Ferberize them (the cry it out method until they cry themselves to sleep), they would just lay them down and would sleep the entire night without a peep!

Now we could go into a super long discussion about this as some say it is not good for babies to sleep through the night so young, that they need to eat during the night to grow, it could cause SIDS, etc. And then there is the common occurrence that formula fed babies sleep better because it is digested slower than breastmilk, so breastfed babies wake up more to eat. And all the many theories as to why babies sleep through the night or not (colic, needy babies, premature, etc) and if it is a good thing.

Who knows what the answer is, but for those parents whose babies do not sleep through the night, it is a constant struggle to figure out the best way to get them to sleep and stay asleep. Do we Ferberize or does that cause them not to trust us as their cries are unanswered? Do we swaddle them or does that cause physical developmental delays? Do we use sound machines and other sleep assisters or are they viewed as a crutch and they will have to have them the rest of their lives to sleep? What about teething and does that cause them to wake up? I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The goal we all want is for us to put our babies down in their cribs/beds awake and have them fall asleep on their own, just like us adults do it. But how do we get to that point?

Older children have a hard time going to bed themselves even if they were good sleepers as babies. They all love avoiding bedtime and will ask for 3 more glasses of milk, one more story, complain, "but I'm not tired." Then, once you think they are finally asleep, you find that they have snuck down and crawled into your bed or are now out of their room and are standing in front of you while you are watching TV at 11pm. It may happen once a month to every single night.  Or better yet, they need to go to the bathroom and can't go by themselves and need your help, or that there is a monster in their room and they can not sleep, etc. Heard any of these before?

So what is a parent to do? I think back on a lot of my play therapy clients who had sleep problems and the best way we worked with it was to first get to the root of what the parent thought might be causing it. It could be something as drastic as the parents were always arguing at home and the child was anxious and could not sleep because of it, to having overly permissive parents who would let their child ask for anything before bedtime to avoid sleep.

Or you have a baby and they are not sleeping and it is possible they are at the age where they no longer need to eat but are crying every hour to be fed. Is that a learned behavior or are they really hungry?

Then once you have an idea of what could be causing your child to avoid sleep or wake up in the middle of the night, to come up with a strategy. Now, I know every child is different and there is no magical cure. Believe me, if there was a magical answer that would solve every child and baby's sleep problem, they would be the highest paid professional out there!

But you have to find solutions that work best with your personality and lifestyle. If you can not stand to hear your child/baby cry at night, then find a solution you can live with. If you go against some of your beliefs in your solution, then it will probably not work. There are good books out there for those that do not want to hear their child cry such as the 'No Cry Sleep Solution" to the Dr. Ferber book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems." The Dr. Ferber book has several chapters in it about various sleep problems such as bed wetting, sleep walking, etc so it is a good resource to have on hand for older children as well.

While on the Dr. Ferber topic, I do have to say that many mothers have told me success of using this method. It took about 1-2 nights of letting them cry it out but doing they did it gradually. They would let them first cry for 1 minute, then go to them, then let them cry for 5, etc but that once they got through it, they could put their child down in the crib wide awake and walk away. They all said that their child never cried again and would put themselves to sleep every night!

I personally have a poor sleeping baby at the moment, and have not Ferberized her yet but who knows, it may get to the point where I am at my end and willing to try anything for us both to get some sleep. I am just not quite able to let my little defenseless baby cry all night long. We are just going to have to go against doctor's orders and swaddle her until she can get herself out of it.

How about you all, what has worked for you as a parent with a baby or a parent with preschool to school aged children? How has sleep deprivation affected you?


  1. I held off on vaccinating my first child (with the exception of her first HepB shot that was given to her in the hospital WITHOUT my consent!) until she was a year old. There was nothing magical about that age...just when I got up the guts to do it. My son got the first few rounds of his, but I am holding off on the MMR until he has developed some better language skills.
    I don't have a lot to prove by my own experience...just going with my gut on this one! :)
    (For what it's worth, it has been one of my most difficult parenting decisions thus far).

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