Domestic Bliss

Help for tired parents

Help is at hand for sleep-deprived parents struggling to cope with their child's sleep problems.

Sleep or the lack of it often dominates the conversations of parents with young children, which is hardly surprising considering that up to 35 per cent of preschool children can have a persistent sleep problem. If you are feeling bleary-eyed from yet another night of interrupted sleep, you may be interested to know that a new sleep clinic, based in Kinvara, has been set up to help parents find a solution to their child's sleep problem.

Anne O'Connor, a consultant clinical psychologist with over 20 years’ experience working with parents and their families, will take parents through an individualised programme aimed at establishing a healthy sleeping pattern for their child. “The effects of inadequate sleep on both the child and parents can be enormous,” Ms O’Connor says. “We now have a range of intervention strategies that have been demonstrated to be successful in solving young children’s sleep problems.”

Some interesting facts about children's sleep problems:

Up to 35 per cent of preschool children can have persistent and severe sleep problems. For children with special needs, this figure can rise to 80 per cent.

It can take up to six months for a young baby to establish a consistent sleeping pattern.

For a small baby, sleeping through the night does not mean 8pm to 8am — it may mean 12am to 5am. It is unrealistic to expect a small baby to sleep for very long periods.

Sleep problems can affect a child's ability to concentrate, cognitive or intellectual development, general health, and daytime behaviour.

For parents, a child's sleep problem can lead to chronic sleep loss and the knock on effects can include irritability, difficulty parenting, poor work performance, etc.

One of the most common sleep problems is difficulty settling to sleep and frequent waking during the night — this is usually caused by sleep associations which interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep on his or her own.

Sleep associations are all those things a child associates with falling asleep, eg, quiet room, darkness, dim lights, being put down in a cot/bed. The child with sleep problems may have sleep associations that interfere with his ability to soothe himself to sleep, eg, being fed, being rocked by Mum or Dad, needing a soother, lying beside Mum or Dad, being in Mum or Dad’s arms, etc.

Bedtime routines are very important to help the child make a transition from daytime activities to night-time sleep. These routines need to be short, consistent, and happen at the same time every night.

The most effective treatment is based on behavioural strategies. These strategies are based on research into human behaviour and the factors that motivate us to behave in the way we do. In a review of all published studies using these behavioural techniques, an 80 per cent success rate was found and the improvements made by these children were maintained.

When treating sleep problems it is important to first identify the problem and its underlying causes. The treatment approach will depend on the results of this assessment.

Habits can be formed in the space of one night so be careful how you handle the hiccups along the way.

There is no such a thing as a 'right' way of sleeping — it’s a choice for you whether you want your child to sleep with you or not, whether she has a soother or not, etc.

There is a lot of dogma out there about children's sleep — a lot of people suggest that there is only one way (theirs! ) of tackling sleep problems. There is usually a choice of strategies and it is up to the parents to choose the one that suits their situation best.

At the preschool sleep clinic parents are helped to find the right solution for their situation and are supported in implementing the strategy they have chosen to solve their child’s sleep problem.

For more information contact Anne O'Connor, Kinvara Clinic, phone (087 ) 2780901, e-mail [email protected]

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