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Curing the Night Owl: Uncovering Sleep Issues Your Child May Be Struggling With

April 21, 2014

sleepingIf your child is up all hours of the night and unwilling to lay down and catch up on her beauty sleep, it’s time to find a cure for your night owl. Although babies will often wake every three to six hours, your toddler and older children should be catching 10 to 12 hours of sleep each day.

According to Jennifer Schindele, certified child sleep consultant and founder of the Gift of Sleep Consulting in Philadelphia, Penn., setting expectations, enforcing strict bedtimes and ensuring your child is not reliant on sleep aids will help your tired little one drift into a sleep routine that is healthy and happy.

Why Won’t My Child Sleep?

One of the most common sleep issues children face during the night is over-tiredness, says Schindele. If your child has a bedtime that does not allow for adequate sleep and she is not drifting into peaceful slumber with naps during the day, it’s likely she is too worn out by the time you attempt to get her into her jammies.

Unfortunately, daytime naps and nighttime slumber are crucial partners in getting your child adequate sleep. “Disrupted nighttime sleep can make it difficult for children of napping age to take great naps during the day,” says Schindele. “Both combined can really create a vicious cycle of over-tiredness and frequent awakenings during naps and overnight.”

If your child will only fall fast asleep with a pacifier, in the arms of mom or dad or with the nanny rocking her, it could disrupt sleep drastically. “Sleep props will actually cause babies and young children to wake frequently during the night as they have not yet developed a self soothing strategy to transition themselves in between sleep cycles,” says Schindele.

How to Cure the Night Owl

If your night owl is keeping you and the entire family from getting much-needed sleep, Schindele recommends building his or her independence. “The most effective strategy to curing the resistance to fall asleep and the frequent wakings at night is to eliminate sleep props and allow the child time to fall asleep independently,” she says.

Remove the security blanket and pacifier, decrease the amount of time you spend soothing the child to sleep and gradually allow the child to learn how to fall asleep on her own.

Your night owl will also fall faster into sleep slumber each night if she is being put to sleep at an age-appropriate time each night. “Creating a consistent and solid bedtime routine leading up to being tucked into bed will give clear indicators to the baby or young child that sleep is approaching soon and begin to transition,” says Schindele.

Establishing sleep rules also helps reinforce expectations for night time.

Schindele suggests the following sleep rules for toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Stay in bed
  • Stay quiet
  • Close your eyes and go to sleep
  • If you wake during the night, close your eyes and go back to sleep
  • Stay in bed until the sun is up

For older children, it may help to create a reward chart to track success and offer praise when they follow the sleep rules.

Uncovering Deeper Sleep Issues

If you have attempted to help your child fall asleep independently and by setting bedtimes that allow for adequate sleep and she is still not getting her beauty sleep, it may be time to seek professional help in case your child is suffering from a sleep disorder.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), nearly 30% of children may have a sleep disorder at some point during their childhood. The NASP reports that sleep disorders can affect a child’s social-emotional adjustment, development and also school performance.

Sleep disorders can range from night terrors, sleep walking, nighttime bedwetting and sleep-onset anxiety to obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy and delayed sleep-phase syndrome.

If you suspect that your child is suffering from a sleep disorder that extends beyond the occasional nightmare or restless night, it is important to schedule a consultation with your family physician or a child sleep consultant. In many cases, when a sleep problem is identified early on, your child can drift into a healthy sleep pattern sooner.


2 Responses to Curing the Night Owl: Uncovering Sleep Issues Your Child May Be Struggling With

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Shannon A. says:

What are your thoughts on having TVs in the bedroom? Our son has been begging for one and his dad is about to cave, but I think that could hinder him going to sleep at night…

admin says:

That’s a great question! I tend to agree that it could encourage your LO to stay awake longer, but I’m going to reach out to some of our experts for their opinion as well!