Ask Doug: Toddler sleeping issues

Doug Berry
Doug Berry.

THE Northglen News wants you to pick our local neurofeedback practitioner, Doug Berry’s brain. This week Doug touches on the issue of divorce.

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Doug will reply to your questions both in print and online. The deadline to submit questions is Thursdays at 1pm.

Hi Doug

I HAVE a little boy, he’s four and will be five in October. 

For the last six months we have been struggling to get him to fall asleep at night. I have asked the school he goes to to try and cut out his sleep during the day, which they have ensured me they are doing, although there are some days where he does end up sleeping but no longer that 40 minutes. 

I don’t give any sweets at nighttime and also have a strict routine of bath and bed after. So no playing or watching TV after bath time, which is supposed to be relaxation time. He is normally in bed by 7.30pm and most nights will only fall off to sleep at around 9.30pm or even 10pm some nights. It’s a concern as I am worried he won’t concentrate at school the next day. Also, this is time for me and my husband to catch up but we spend the entire evening trying to get him to go to sleep. Help. – Nicole

Hi Nicole

THIS situation must be very frustrating for your family. As with all of these types of situations, there is never a ‘blanket response’ that will suit everyone, as every child is unique and has their own idiosyncrasies and ways of doing things.

In this light, I will give you some pointers you may not have considered before. 

• Keeping energy-increasing substances away from the child before bedtime is a great idea and I suggest you keep at it. A factor that can often be problematic is the child’s diet or vitamin intake.

•Quite often, the foods we consume do not get the correct amount of minerals from the soil or their own food source, and as a result we often become deficient. Magnesium is one of the common ones. Magnesium is known to be a natural muscle relaxant, calming the central nervous system and acting as a sedative. Healthy levels of magnesium have been linked to deep, undisturbed sleep. 

• Melatonin is another factor to consider. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone and is also commonly sold as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement and as a treatment for sleep disorders. When it is used conscientiously, melatonin may be an appropriate treatment for severe sleep problems in some toddlers. It regulates the body’s circadian rhythm (our daily clock), assisting with sleep at night and wakefulness during daylight hours and can be quite helpful in children with anxiety. If you are curious about melatonin and magnesium and how they can assist, I would suggest speaking to your paediatrician first. 

•Don’t skip naps until your child is ready to skip them. Some toddlers take naps until age five, while others stop from as early as two or three years old. So there’s a large divide on the normal age for nap reduction. Cutting out nap times ‘cold-turkey’ can be problematic, as they still need that extra sleep, they can become difficult and over-tired later in the day. I’d suggest asking the school to allow him to nap if he needs to or just to encourage a bit of quiet time when he doesn’t feel like napping. The transition to nap-free toddlerhood can be a bit rocky to say the least and will happen in stages. The main thing is not to deny him sleep, but to allow a time for change to occur at a natural pace. 

• If you are still having a hard time getting him to sleep after persisting with a bedtime routine, make sure you have dark blinds in the room that keep out any unnatural light, such as street lamps. You can install a quiet fan to circulate air, which has the added advantage of making a little background noise that can be encouraging for sleep. Alternatively, there are white-noise machines that assist with sleep regulation, but these last options should not be your first resort, as relying on artificial sleep aids can create a difficult norm to break later in life.

• Some reading which may be of help to you is the book Good Night, Sleep Tight – The Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep and Wake Up Happy, by Kim West. As with many of these books, you may not agree with all of the tips, but may find some that suit your child’s individual needs. When you have a routine that suits your family, stick to it until you feel like giving up, then keep at it some more. I have no doubt that it will be hard, but in the end, it will be worth it. Best of luck.

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Doug Berry, neurofeedback practitioner and registered counsellor

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