ONE of my patients, Sandra, recently popped in to see me for a routine script.
She had come straight in after grabbing three-year-old Polly from day care.
Sandra was a mess. Polly has probably slept through the evening less than seven times since she was born. On a good night she’s up once and settles back to sleep within half an hour.
On a bad night, she can stir three times and take an hour or more to settle. Sandra was too exhausted to enjoy being a mum and her plight is common among parents.
Health concerns for children
For the 30 per cent of Aussie kids who are running a sleep deficit, their own health is also at risk. Their developing brains can be affected and their immune systems can be compromised by lack of shut-eye. Older night owls can be ratty during the day, with doctors wrongly diagnosing ADHD. And 75 per cent of kids with chronic headaches are sleep-deprived.
But there’s a legitimate concern about the use of sedatives in children. The link between babies taking sedatives and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) started to be recognised in the 1990s. Promethazine was one of the problem drugs cited, especially when used in combination with other sedative medication in children under age two.
So how can you help your baby gain sound, restorative sleep safely — and thereby reclaim your own regenerative slumber in the process?
Parents’ guide to surviving a night owl
If your cherub is under six months old, they get a hall pass to call you out for a feed in the midnight hours. After that, rest is paramount. Try these solutions:
1. Head to your GP and get your little one checked for a medical problem. Sleep apnoea and iron deficiency (for example from prematurity and low birth weight) can both cause chronically disrupted kip. Iron deficiency is picked up with a simple blood test and sleep apnoea is identified in a sleep study — more likely in kids with huge tonsils and who snore.
2. Short-term strategies include organising a sleepover for your baby at a friend or family member’s home; letting bub sleep in your bed (safely); taking nanna naps when you can.
3. Once you’re in the headspace to think clearly, make some long-term plans. If you live in a house without in-laws or irate neighbours, you can opt for “controlled comforting”, AKA “controlled crying”. This is when you leave your baby to cry for short periods of time, gradually increasing the period between visits. Or you can “camp out” — sit beside your child, and gradually move the chair further and further from the cot until you’re out the door.