I need my sleep. Not as much as I used to, but I still need to sleep. If I could have a solid four hours in a row I would be quite happy. Still tired, but able to function. My daughter never sleeps, therefore I never sleep. This needed to change. It was time to battle. Sleep deprived mama vs insomniac toddler. Who would win?
I have wittered on a lot about the fact that my daughter, Molly, is a terrible sleeper. She is two and a half now and we must have had about a handful of times she has slept through the night. If that!
There have been a few things (for example illness and night terrors) that have contributed to Molly’s night time waking but I won’t go into detail about them because I have previously written about them.
My problem is that I cannot pin her night time restlessness on one of these reasons. She often wakes for hours in the night, for no explainable reason. I can tell she is tired but she just cannot settle back down.
After two and a half years of sleep deprivation, it was time to try and find a solution for what I could only describe as Molly’s insomnia. Luckily, there were a series of sleep workshops starting in my local area and my brilliant health visitor thought I was a perfect candidate for referral.
Though I felt like I had tried everything I possibly could to help Molly sleep better at night, I went into the workshop with an open mind.
There were a lot of really good tips and advise being thrown about. Such as:
- No screen time after a certain time – both television and tablets
- Stop naps after 3pm
- No sugary food or drink before bedtime
- Have a calm bedroom environment – no TV or ‘blue lights’ which may disturb sleep, toys should be put away so the child isn’t tempted to play with them
- Use a nightlight / don’t use a nightlight – depending on what the child currently does
- Have a consistent bedtime routine – e.g. bath, story, bed…
- Get enough physical activity during the day so the child is tired out and ready for bed – not in the hour or so before bed though as it might wake them up
These pieces of advise were fantastic but they were things we had already adopted into our routine. So far the session wasn’t proving to be of any use to me…
The session leaders wanted to discuss routine in more detail. I was about to switch off completely. I had never had trouble getting Molly to bed so we didn’t need to work on her bedtime routine.
However, it turned out they weren’t talking about bedtime routines, they were talking about daytime routines. I didn’t know what Molly’s daytime routine had to do with her night time restlessness but I was intriqued. Suggestions made included:
Daytime routine should be more structured
- Get up at the same time every day (including weekends), even if it means waking the child up
- Have breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at the same time
- Don’t let the child nap after 3pm – Or maybe not at all if they are anything like Molly. Even the shortest of naps during the day and we are looking at somewhere between 9pm – 10pm before she shows signs of being tired
- Complete daily activities so the child isn’t bored – go out walking, to the park, messy play etc
- Make use of a reward chart – not necessarily for good/bad behaviour, but kind of like a checklist. You could tick things off the chart when completed. E.g. you could tick off that you have eaten breakfast, completed an activity, had a snack etc with the aim being that the child knows what to expect during the day
- Give the child a supper of ‘sleepy foods’ before bed in case they are waking up hungry
- Sleepy foods are foods that contain melatonin and tryptophyn e.g.
- Dairy – cheese and milk
- Wholegrain crackers or bread
- Turkey or chicken
- Green leafy vegetables
- None sugary cereal
- Pure cherry juice
Complete relaxing activities in the run up to bed time
- Bath time – This will depend on your child. Bath time used to be relaxing for Molly but now she sees it as play time. We cannot get Molly to go to sleep with a routine of bath, story and then sleep time. She likes to come downstairs after her bath
- Crafts that require concentration but nothing that will wake them up
- Hand eye coordination activities such as threading beads and jigsaws
Bedtime should be structured and regimented (to a certain extent):
- Bedtime routine should be consistent so the child doesn’t become confused – e.g. bath time, then a story, then it is time to sleep, all at the same time each night
- Be firm when telling the child that you will read one/two stories and then it is time to sleep – don’t say you will only read one story to the child and then allow them another. If you think your child will want more than one story, say they can have two stories before going to sleep. It is whatever will work for you but you have to stick to what you have said to your child
- Instead of offering cuddles and having idle chit chat with the child when it is sleep time, you should place your hand on the child’s head when leaving their bedroom and say, “sleep time now”. Nothing else, just that and then leave the room
- Every time the child wakes up at night you should put them back in bed, put your hand on their head and say, “sleep time now”. No idle chit chat, just leave the room
- If your child is anything like mine this will be really difficult. Molly will constantly get out of bed and have a tantrum until she gets her own way. In the past I have given in and sat with her in her bedroom or have taken her down stairs because I didn’t want her waking daddy up when he has to be up early for work.
- All these night time cuddles are detrimental to both myself and Molly. If she screams and I come running with a cuddle she will learn that screaming results in cuddles with mummy. I have a huge issue in denying my child a cuddle when she wants one but I think I am just going to have to toughen up with this one (sob sob weep weep)..
Those were the tips I came away from the workshop with. What do you think?
I know they sound quite regimented and way too structured but for children with sleep problems like Molly, where every other option has been exhausted, it may be the only option.
If the rigid daytime structure works it could be slowly relaxed over time. If the child starts getting back in to bad night time sleeping habits, the routine could become more regimented again.
I must say I was quite hesitant to put these changes into motion but it is for the best. As of yet I havent been as regimented with the tips as I need to be. Probably because I hate structure (i’m more of a spur of the moment type of person) but because of things like illness etc getting in the way.
I will be putting these into place though to see how we get on. We all need to start getting a decent amount of sleep, and Molly also has quite a fiery temper so a structured daytime routine could help with behaviour issues too.
I am assured by the leaders of the sleep workshop that it will be really hard, but if I am strict and stick with the new routine we should have cracked it within two to four weeks.
What do you think about these ideas? What is your bedtme routine? Do you have any other tips I could try? I look forward to hearing some more tips.