The phrase ‘sleep like a baby’ must have been coined by someone who didn’t have kids because, as any parent knows, having a baby means disturbed nights. While you expect this at first, what happens when it’s been going on for months or even years?
Some parents turn to sleep clinics, which give one-to-one, tailor-made help. Debbie Harper, 32, used a sleep clinic for her son Zach, 22 months. ‘At 15 months Zach had never slept through and was waking 4-7 times a night, screaming so much he made himself sick. We went to the Naturally Nurturing sleep clinic and within three weeks saw a huge improvement.’
Sounds promising, so we approached some top sleep experts for advice on common problems families face…
Q: My 6-week-old baby sleeps for 4-5 hours at a stretch during the day, but not at night. What can I do?
A: Chireal Shallow, sleep therapist at the Naturally Nurturing clinic, says: ‘Babies aren’t born with a pre-set day/night clock. They sleep when they’re full and wake up when they’re hungry. Young babies have tiny tummies and milk is digested quickly, so they can only sleep for a limited time. The fact that your baby goes down for 4-5 hours is good news – you just need to re-adjust her clock so she does this at night. Try waking her after she’s slept for a couple of hours during the day, give her a feed, then encourage her to be awake. Feed her more often during the early evening so she stocks up and will hopefully sleep longer at night.’
Q: My 4-month-old son falls asleep with his last feed. I put him in his cot but he wakes up quickly, crying until I rock him back to sleep again.
A: Chireal Shallow says: ‘Babies spend more time in light sleep than adults and your son will quickly notice when you’ve moved him from the warmth of your arms to his cot. He needs to fall asleep in his cot so he wakes up in the same place and won’t be alarmed. Try the gradual retreat method: you start off by staying close to his cot while he goes to sleep, and then each night you gradually move a little further away until finally you’re outside the door.’
Q: My baby is 7 months and wakes every 2-3 hours during the night to feed. Can he really be hungry?
A: Tracey Marshall, sleep therapist at Millpond sleep clinic, says: ‘Your baby may well be hungry but at this age it’s more likely he’s learned to be hungry during the night because you feed him. You need to try and re-adjust the balance, so he gets more food during the day and less at night, eventually cutting out night feeds altogether. Gradually give him less milk when he wakes at night and more milk and solids during the day.’
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Q: My 9 month old sleeps through the night but wakes at 5am. I feed her but she won’t go back to sleep.
A: Tracey Marshall says: ‘This might happen because you feed her – it’s like a reward for waking up. Reduce the feed by 1 minute each day, or by 1oz if you’re bottle feeding, and then stop altogether. If that doesn’t work, it may be that she’s sleeping too long during the day. If she’s a natural early riser, put her to bed a bit later to see if that helps. She’ll probably learn to go back to sleep on her own when she wakes early. If you treat the waking at 5am as you would if she woke at 2am, she’ll soon start to settle herself.’
Q: My 15 month old just won’t nap during the day, which means that he’s grumpy all afternoon. How can I get him to settle?
A: Chireal Shallow says: ‘At this age children really do need a nap and your son may be getting over-tired, which means that he can’t relax enough to drop off to sleep. Create a period of calm before his nap. Pick the same time each day so he gets into the routine, and sit quietly with him reading a book. Then tell him that it’s time for his sleep and take him to his room, just like you do at night.’
Q: Our 2 year old gets into bed with us when she wakes. Now I’m pregnant again, I really do want her to break that habit.
A: Professor David Messer, a sleep specialist at Open University, says: ‘Take this slowly, as your toddler won’t change overnight. Talk to her during the day about how you’d like things to be different. Make it a good experience for her – suggest she cuddles a toy in her own bed instead of coming into yours. A reward chart is a good idea. It’s important to keep going and give her time – don’t expect immediate results.’
Q: Since our 3 year old has moved into a big bed she keeps getting up. Help!
A: Tracey Marshall says: ‘To her it’s a game and she’s seeing how much she can get away with. Give her no reason to get up. Be firm and take her back to her bed. Provide an incentive to stay in bed by making her a reward chart.’
No more broken nights!
Sleep clinics are specialist centres run by nurses, health visitors and psychologists, and are available on the NHS. Your GP or health visitor can tell you where to find one.
There are private clinics too, such as London-based Millpond (020 8444 0040; mill-pond.co.uk) and Naturally Nurturing (020 8763 8723; naturallynurturing.co.uk). Yellow Pages will have details of clinics in your area. Private clinics can provide phone or email advice as well as consultations. Costs vary, but typically will be £60 for a consultation or £175 for a package of consultations and phone support.
What do they do?
You’ll be assigned an adviser who’ll suggest a plan of action and see you for follow-up visits. ‘Expect an improvement within a few days and a big difference after two weeks. Virtually every problem can be resolved or improved within four weeks,’ says Chireal Shallow, from the Naturally Nurturing clinic. Millpond sleep clinic’s Tracey Marshall agrees, ‘There’s a 97% success rate after three weeks.’
Roma Marlin went to Millpond clinic about 2-year-old Eleanor’s sleep problems. ‘She was waking 7-11 times every night. A colleague mentioned the clinic so we gave it a go. The results were miraculous – within a week Eleanor was sleeping 12 hours a night and we haven’t had a broken night since.
‘We used controlled crying – which I’d always been opposed to – but you never leave your child longer than five minutes. We just went into her room and reassured her we were there, but avoided contact.’