In my book, “Is That Me Yelling?” I touch on the issue of sleep deprivation as a common trigger for parental yelling during the day, or at 3AM, when you’re not able to be rational or calm.
There are many consequences of too little sleep, such as lack of focus, irritability, poor emotional control, and an overall foggy feeling. Sleep deprivation can also set you up for a lower resistance to fighting off colds and other illnesses. Parents and children frequently feel stressed out, and a good nights sleep is an important element in stress reduction.
Many parents report that when their child gets into the habit of waking up in the middle of the night, they lose it, and start to yell. Yelling rarely helps, and will often make matters worse since a child may get worried or upset, motivating her to want more comfort.
Most couples share the burden of getting up at night to comfort a crying baby or to walk a seven year old back to her bed after her loud howling woke you and perhaps the neighbors as well. And if you’re a single parent, your sanity depends on creative solutions to getting a good night sleep.
What has worked for you, to help your child learn how to put herself back to sleep? Here are some solutions that parents have used. What would you add?
- Walk your child back to bed and help her learn ways to soothe herself back to sleep. Stay calm and in control of your emotions—and with a consistent message over time your child may learn that he can go back to sleep without a parent there.
- Give-in to his desire, and let him sleep with you “just this one night.”
- Put a sleeping bag or mat (not too comfy) on the floor in your room and tell your child she can come and sleep there in the middle of the night, as long as she doesn’t wake you up.
- Teach your child how to do slow easy breathing (maybe with a stuffed animal on her belly) or the body-scan, so she can soothe herself back to sleep. Try an eye pillow that has a soothing lavender scent.
- Get a dog to sleep with your child.
- Try a sound machine. For some kids it does the trick when they stir at night. You may find it useful for trips as well.
- Revisit your child’s bedtime routine. Work to teach your child how to fall asleep at bedtime, on his own—without a parent sitting there until he is asleep. If he gets use to falling asleep without you there, he will be more likely to fall back to sleep without you as well.
- Make sure he has had a good dinner or a bed time healthy snack, so a hungry belly isn’t the cause of waking.
- Talk to your child about her school day and listen to any fears or concerns she has about her school performance or friendships. Worries can keep a child from falling back to sleep. Reflect on the amount of one-on-one time you have with your child.
- Engage your child in a conversation about what would help him get back to sleep without waking you. Experiment with the different ideas if they make sense to you. Let him know that you need your sleep and you don’t want to be woken up at night. Tell him that you will be a much nicer person during the day if you sleep well.
- Do an inventory on the level of stress in the house in the evening. If things are tense between family members, it can impact healthy sleep.
- Don’t have TV or other electronics in your child’s room. Too much visual stimulation, or scary movies, can cause sleep waking. Also the bedroom should be on the cool side, and most people sleep much better in the dark, with the lights out and good curtains to keep the sun from shining into the room in the early morning. Some children do better with a night light, so you’ll need to figure out what’s best.
- Talk to your health care provider to rule out any issues such as sleep apnea or snoring.
Children go through different stages of development. At some stages they become more aware of the world around them, and because of that, they may not feel safe or secure. Many children become more aware and interested in death and dying between the ages of 7-9, and they may temporarily need extra comfort and connection. Behavior has meaning, and at the same time habits get formed easily, so think it though before you bring your child into your bed at night. It’s a personal decision, so decide if that’s what you (and your partner or spouse) want, and if that’s what your child needs. Each family is unique, and so what works for you may be very different than what works for your friend or sister.