Sleeplessness can adversely affect your child’s health and yours. Experts offer tips which can be a stand-in for that lullaby.
The relief of watching your baby sleep is unmatched. The joy, it must be said, isn’t entirely selfless. Requisite sleep isn’t just important for your child’s health, it has a significant impact on yours too. Most parents (new ones especially) will confess that erratic bedtimes can sometimes lead to much frustration and irritability. A good night’s sleep for your child can often see you enjoy an energetic morning, but therapists and medical practitioners state that the benefits of slumber are actually more essential and manifold.
Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital’s Dr Bijal Srivastava says, “Sleep is like taking a small holiday on a daily basis. It helps in the development of the normal circadian rhythm, which is related to the hormonal changes in the body. It allows the body’s various functions to run smoothly.” The paediatrician adds that relaxation apart, sleep is the time when the body heals and repairs tissues. An infant’s brain, for instance, processes and stores information that it has received during the entire day, aiding both learning and memory. A child’s immunity is also compromised if he or she doesn’t sleep enough. If it is your little boy or girl who isn’t getting restful sleep at night, a list of its advantages would perhaps only exacerbate your concerns. You, of course, needn’t lose sleep just yet. A change in your parenting approach could possibly ensure that muchcherished silent night.
Not just a mama’s boy
Sleep, like walking or forming proper sentences, is a learned skill. Rather than dependence on rocking, cooing or shushing, a baby needs to discover his or her sleep independence. Kavitha Nair, a UK-based Gentle Sleep coach works with families to create an individualised, step-by-step sleep plan that factors in their parenting philosophy, the child’s age, health and temperament, a mother’s wellbeing and other related family dynamics. The subsequent plan involves changes in bedtime, napping, and overnight routines so that babies go to sleep on their own, sleeping more soundly and for longer. Importantly, they are still made to feel confident that both parents are nearby and responsive.
“When we wake up in the middle of the night, we know how to get back to sleep. Babies don’t, not until we teach them. Most babies are often nursed, rocked, patted or walked to sleep. Therefore, when they wake up at night, they need these motions and gestures to go back to sleep. Their cry is a way of saying, ‘I am kinda awake, exhausted. I need to go back to sleep, but just don’t know how to. So come back in, rock me or nurse me back to sleep,'” says Nair, who coaches parents the world over through her Skype sessions. She goes on to add that once parents help babies get past their formed and negative associations, they will no longer need their help to go back to sleep. Eventually, children would just need to reach out to something that brings them comfort and they could then just nod off again.
Nair’s Gentle Sleep method stresses on creating a familiar space for the baby by establishing a calming bedtime routine that would help the baby wind down from an alert state to a calm and drowsy one. “As the baby starts to unwind, they activate oxytocin and the sleep hormone melatonin that regulate the body’s arousal system. In other words, their little bodies are ready for sleep,” explains Nair. By adhering to Nair’s guidelines (see below), mothers can hope to see a significant shift in the sleep pattern of their babies. As opposed to waking up every second hour, testimonials prove that babies can now sleep for 11 uninterrupted hours. Nair, though, does sound a warning. “Most babies are not ready for sleep coaching till after six months. Their ability to self soothe is not fully developed by then. Trying to implement independent sleep skills too early can lead to negative outcomes and lots of frustration for the mother and her baby.”
Nap like clockwork
For infants, sleeplessness can be caused by a host of common factors — the lack of a pacifier, cold and a cough, earaches, colic. In slightly older children, a lack of sleep may be caused by factors more myriad and complex — separation anxiety, darkness, insecure environment, school work, peer and family pressure, loud televisions, parental arguments and bad sleep habits. Whatever the cause, chances are that they will kick up a fuss the next morning and their subsequent grogginess could translate into inattentiveness at school. These, however, might well be the more harmless effects. “The temper tantrums will affect their physical, mental and emotional growth. In the long run, it increases the chances of infections because of poor immunity, and that simple lack of sleep could also lead to anger, depression, risk-taking behaviour, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, diabetes, stroke and hypertension in the future,” warns Bijal Shrivastava.
Studies also show that a lack of sleep has a direct correlation with binge-eating and overeating. With so much at stake, parents are not alone in advocating strict discipline. “Not sleeping is not an option. Parents should not leave it to kids to decide when to sleep. Fix a time for sleep (either 9 or 10pm) and form your schedule around it. Put in place a bedtime routine that involves ‘winding down’ of the body and brain. This means that dinner must be had by 8:30pm, and no TV or computer screens should follow that meal. A warm bath, brushing teeth, wearing pyjamas would set the tone. A story or lullaby would help create the environment,” says parenting expert Swati Popat-Vats. Switching off, it would seem, is the best recourse for parents and children alike.
METHODS TO ENSURE ‘A GENTLE SLEEP’
Prioritising day sleep: By making children skip naps and/or by keeping them stay up late, they will not sleep through the night. They will instead wake up more often and then eventually rise early.
Looking for signs: Yawning, rubbing of the eyes, general crankiness are signs of exhaustion or tiredness. If you miss your child’s ‘sleep window’ (natural time to sleep), instead of the calming melatonin, his/her adrenal glands will send out a rush of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) that will overstimulate the baby, make him/her wired, and create a second wind. Not only will s/he be agitated but it will become difficult to console them. S/he is more likely to wake up at night or wake up too early in the morning, before s/he is truly rested.
Babies must sleep on their own: A parent can stay with a child and reassure them until they are asleep, but the baby should be awake enough to know s/he is in the crib. It is important that babies finally learn to go to sleep on their own.
Having a routine: This must include consistent meal and sleep times. Introduce sleep-shaping techniques which include sleep hygiene. Ensure a good solid bedtime routine.
Being consistent: If you are inconsistent in how you put your child to sleep and how you respond to them when they wake up during the night, you may inadvertently create more situations that sees them crying.
(Published in Mumbai Mirror, India’s leading English daily)
By Nasrin Modak Siddiqi, Mumbai Mirror | Jul 28, 2015, 12.00 AM IST