Skip directly to content

Six Factors That Derail Children's Sleep

on Tue, 12/17/2013 - 01:42

You may have spent days, weeks, or even months getting your child to finally fall asleep and stay asleep without a big hassle, only to find that those dreaded sleep deprived moments have returned. Or, perhaps your child has never slept through the night, and just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, you are faced with increased sleep disruption. What is a parent to do? First of all try not to panic. Your child can return to better sleep skills. It will take some consistency and re-establishing of routines, but it can be done. I have provided six of the common factors that cause most children to fall off a healthy sleep track. I also offer ways to get your child back to the sleep routine he or she needs.

1. The Holidays:
‘Tis the season to be sleep disrupted. Holidays bring fun and enjoyment to children; unfortunately the season also can bring many of the triggers that cause children to fall into bad sleep habits. Stimulating late night parties, visitors during nap times, holiday travel, and broken daily routines are some of the culprits that can make even the best sleepers forget their skills. If you find that your child has started fighting naps or bed- time or gets up more after the holidays are over, it is probably because they are sleep deprived from the holiday festivities.

The Fix: Re-establishing bedtime routines and enforcing proper sleep times, and maintaining consistency can help kids get back on track.

2. Moving:
A move can affect younger children more than they can express. Leaving the home that they knew and sometimes the state or country to which they have become accustomed can be jolting. Young children can’t fully express their sadness or disappointment in missing their home or friends and family that may be too far away. These emotions can play out during bedtime and sleep time. If you add a time zone change with the relocation, it can be especially challenging for a child to take on the skill of soothing him or herself to sleep.

The Fix: Parents can offer extra soothing and comfort to babies. Make sure to limit the soothing though, because if it is done to the point of your child falling asleep, he could become dependent on it. For older children who are verbal, have them talk to you about their feelings or draw pictures of how they feel.

3. Changes in Family Circumstances
Circumstances such as a death or illness of a loved one, divorce, or a parent going off to serve in the military can change the entire family system. These are situations that cause grief and stress for adults. So, it should come as no surprise that children are emotionally affected by these changes also. Unlike adults, young children lack the verbal sophistication or cognitive ability to process their strong emotions. This can lead to releasing their emotions through “acting out” behaviors or behavioral issues. Falling asleep and staying asleep might become an area of struggle for some kids with the stress of these life changes.

The Fix: Parents will need to process and deal with their own feelings of loss and grief while offering comfort and reassurance to their child. Children will often look to adults for examples of how to handle strong emotions. Giving children time to process their loss and offering structure and routine can be very helpful when there are major family changes.

4. Childhood Illness
Being sick is no fun. There is usually an interruption to sleep. Whether it be a stuffy nose, or very serious illness, children will have trouble sleeping and may need to be reminded what normal sleep patterns look like once the illness is over. They may have also gotten used to some extra perks during their illness, like sleeping in a parent’s bed, or extra rocking or holding during sleep time. This may have caused a sleep crutch to form that the child needs to learn how to do without. On the other extreme, the anxiety of the adults over the illness or uncomfortable medical treatments could leave the child scared at bedtime.

The Fix: Re-establishing healthy bedtime routines and allowing a child to re-learn self-soothing skills while a parent is by his side can help. Parents can slowly move themselves out of their child’s room over a period of days.

5. Change in Season:
Blame it on the weather. When the climate changes, children may take time to fully adjust to the new season. This may cause them to be too hot or too cold. Also, some children start getting allergies when the seasons change, which can affect nighttime sleep.

The Fix: Check a child’s bedding and sleep wear to see if it is appropriate. Check the temperature of the room and heating and cooling devices. Sometimes a child’s sleep issues can be solved with something as simple as not turning up the air conditioner. Each child has his or her own unique experience of what is comfortable. If you suspect your child has an allergy seek the assistance of your pediatrician.

6. Developmental Milestones
Developmental milestones are wonderful moments in child development but they can also bring unwelcome changes in behavior. Learning how to crawl or walk is a big deal for babies. Learning about autonomy can be intriguing and scary for toddlers. Sometimes children will get up at night to practice these newly acquired skills. Along with these milestones come disruptions in behavior that can leak into sleep time.

The Fix: Being consistent with soothing bedtime routines, not providing an audience, and promptly returning wandering children to bed, can curb these types of nighttime wakings. Allow your child time in the day to get your attention and fanfare over their newly learned skills. Allow toddlers to make decisions that are appropriate for their age.