Sleepless children, exhausted parents

Researcher examines links between home and daycare patterns

UBC researcher Wendy Hall has advice for wrung out parents whose toddlers won’t go to sleep.

Give your child an opportunity to soothe and settle themselves, offers Hall, a professor at the School of Nursing who has been studying children’s sleep patterns and behaviour problems for the past 10 years.

Unless they’re sick or suffer from allergies, children from as early as six to seven months old benefit from learning how to deal with fear, frustration and other emotions.

“If the parent always steps in, a child never gets to develop abilities that are important building blocks for cognition and developing social relationships,” says Hall, one of a handful of Canadian researchers specializing in this field.

Given that 25 per cent of families are kept awake by toddlers who won’t go down and stay down, she says it’s important for parents and daycare providers to look at the entire 24-hour cycle of a child who is having behavioural sleep problems.

In a recent study with 58 children aged one to three-years who attended daycare, Hall looked at the correlations between their sleep patterns and behaviour at home and at daycare.

Findings showed that children who were happier following naps had less reported night settling difficulties. But children with difficulty settling for naps at daycare had more home reports of behavioural problems.

“There were clear cross-over effects,” notes Hall, whose findings will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Childcare and Development.

“There haven’t been any previous studies on toddlers and sleep in both the home and daycare setting. Our results suggest that parents and daycare providers would benefit from opportunities to discuss sleep and settling requirements for children in this age group.”

She adds that educational policies covering pre-school settings should also pay attention to toddlers’ sleep.

Daytime sleep is vital for young children’s health, explains Hall. “Most children until the ages of three to four still benefit from an afternoon nap.”

For those children accustomed to being cuddled and rocked until they fall asleep at home, daycare presents challenges. “If you have three workers and 15 children, it’s simply not possible to provide that individual attention.”

What often happens in the home, says Hall, is that a child’s sleep patterns—however disruptive—dictate the family’s norms. Some parents tell her, for example, that they haven’t gone out in two years since they’re the only ones who can settle their child.

“When I get a call from a frantic mother and she’s tired and depressed, that’s when I can say, this is totally solvable.”

7 tips for getting children to sleep

UBC School of Nursing Prof. Wendy Hall provides these helpful guidelines:

  1.  Have a regular bedtime.
  2.  Have a regular and familiar routine for settling the child before bedtime and naps.
  3.  Make stories a part of bedtime.
  4.  Have children fall asleep in their own beds rather than on the sofa or in their parents’ bed. Hall explains, “When children fall asleep outside of their beds and then partially wake up during the night, they can get startled and wake up fully because they find themselves in a different place.”
  5. Don’t give up naps too early. Although it varies from child to child, most two- to four-year-olds need an estimated 12-13 hours of sleep each day.
  6. Avoid caffeine (chocolate bars, chocolate milk, soft drinks) before bedtime.
  7. Avoid screen time since videos and computers tend to stimulate rather than calm.

For a video of Prof. Wendy Hall on infant sleep, visit : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSqw6UFsTH8

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