Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2020
My appalling attitude to women I was recently accused by @thesleepgeek of having an “appalling” attitude “towards working mums with kids who sleep poorly.” How to get your child to sleep Here is the relevant passage in my book ‘How to Sleep Well’ Page 136-138 In the past we sought wisdom from the wise, i.e. we got what little instruction we needed on how to bring up a child from our mothers or our grandmothers. This has now been replaced by self-appointed ‘sleep experts’, whether in book form or on the internet. Their advice, mostly erroneous, and often contradictory is seemingly causing unnecessary confusion, fear and anxiety in parents. For example, I had a woman write to me recently saying that she had a 5-week-old child and when could she expect it to start sleeping through the night! What false expectation had been engendered in her, and by whom, that she felt it necessary to ask this question. Remember in the past you came home from school did your homework, watched Blue Peter, sat with your parents whilst watching Nationwide and then the family programmes, Top of the Pops, Tomorrow’s World, etc. then at 9pm, if not earlier, the adult programmes, Panorama, World in Action etc. started, (it was even called the ‘9 o’clock watershed’ and was the signal that children should be in bed). Once in bed your options were to go to sleep or read under the covers by torch light, we certainly never had a TV in the bedroom. In the past when you were told “it’s time for bed” this meant go to your bed, read and your lights will go out in 20 minutes. Now “go to bed” means “get out of the adult space because I want to watch the match/soap/reality show without you bothering me, I don’t care what you do as long as you keep out of my way”. The child does not mind this as it has plenty to do in their bedroom; a TV, games machine, computer, smartphone. At some point later in the evening you remember that it is probably time for your child to go to sleep so you go to their room and demand they switch the TV/games machine/computer/Smartphone off and go to sleep, now! The problem is that 1) for the last 3 hours they have been killing zombies, so are cognitively aroused and 2) the blue light from their TV/games machine/computer/Smartphone has suppressed their natural releases of melatonin and so however hard they try they will not easily be able to fall asleep. One of the main problems with the pre-sleep activities of modern children such as TV, games machines/internet use is they are unstructured activities i.e. they do not have a clearly defined end point. Research has shown that a more structured pre-bed routine is better for inducing sleep. Parents may mistakenly think that a child will take the sleep they need, but children do not have sufficient self- awareness to know when they should settle to sleep or to resist the temptation of all the competing activities and pastimes, so this is why parental guidance in imposing a routine is necessary. A worrying modern trend is competitive parenting, bringing a child up is not a competition and your child is not better or more intelligent just because they have developed the habit of sleeping through the night. To try and make a child sleep through the night or to ‘sleep train’ your child in order to somehow demonstrate its superiority to other children is both misguided and wrong. How to get your child to sleep Teach them the difference between day and night, daytime is light, noisy, interactive; night time is dark, quiet, and dull. Bedtime routines are important, regardless of a child's age. It should include about 15-30 minutes of calm, soothing activities with a definite endpoint. Discourage television, exercise, computer and telephone use, and avoid drinks containing caffeine. For babies and younger children, it really is quite depressingly simple, bath, story/lullaby, lights out, sleep Help children avoid an overloaded schedule, identify and prioritise activities that allow for relaxation and sufficient sleep time. Remember even the best sleepers will have periods of time when they do not sleep well. We are all different and so if your child is happy, healthy and well behaved on less than the recommended hours, don’t worry. If they are tired, crabby and prone to temper tantrums then however much sleep they are getting it is probably not sufficient. The key is to do what is right for you, your partner, and most importantly your child not what your friends, neighbours, mother-in-law, sleep experts or self-help parenting books tell you.