The Little Blanket Shop, designer and supplier of luxury kids weighted blankets has had the pleasure of working with the talented Lauren Peacock of Little Sleep Stars (@little_sleep_stars). Lauren originally trained as a solicitor but after becoming a mother she retrained as a child sleep specialist and has never looked back. Our customers often ask why their child is not sleeping so we thought we would get Lauren's expert opinion for you! We hope you find these tips and explanations useful and you can always check out Little Sleep Stars for more tips.
Why is my preschooler (or school-aged child!) not sleeping through the night?
In the early months of parenthood, almost all of us anticipate some level of sleep-deprivation – a sort of parental right-of-passage. And whilst sleep typically ebbs and flows over the first twelve-to-eighteen months, as their little one moves through their second year, many families find that, aside from the odd teething or illness-related blip, everyone is achieving the sleep they need. But what if your pre-schooler, or even your school-aged child, consistently wakes at night? If nothing else, know that you are not alone! Around 40% of the families I work with have children aged two or older.
The myth of “sleeping-through”
To understand why a parent is finding themselves resettling their older child several times a night, the first thing we look at is whether this is a new issue or a continuing one. Like any other aspect of our child, their sleep evolves and changes over time. Somewhere in the first six months, commonly around month four, sleep changes – immeasurably and permanently. On the other side of this milestone, periodic waking is both normal and inevitable. All children wake through the night – the only difference between one who “sleeps-through” and doesn’t, is what happens at those junctures.
Nature and nurture
Some little ones, almost straight-off-the-bat, are naturally inclined to simply settle back to sleep and will “sleep-through” with little to no coaxing in that direction. If you have a little one of two or three or even older, and they have never had a consistent period of “sleeping-through”, the most likely explanation is that they simply haven’t moved towards independent resettling.
Sooner or later, all children dobecome independent settlers – but the pace of natural progression varies. If sleep is working as it is, there really isn’t a need to change anything – sometimes, it is enough to know that your child isn’t broken and that you haven’t done anything wrong.
When sleep isn’t working
If, however, the current sleep situation isn’t bringing everyone the rest they need, children can be gently coached towards more independent settling. Contrary to popular scaremongering to the contrary, it is never “too late” to change patterns of behaviour around sleep. Nor does the process have to involve leaving a child alone to cry.
The challenge of new onset night-waking
What can be trickier to unpick is where there is new onset night-waking. Here, the drivers are typically more complex but some of the most common ones include:
If a child of 3+ still takes a nap and their night-sleep suddenly becomes shorter and/or fragmented, it tends to be a sign that the daytime sleep needs to be reviewed. On the flip side, if a child has dropped their nap within the last month or two and their night-sleep has subsequently deteriorated, it is often sign that they are struggling without the nap, in which case reintroducing it maybe necessary.
Transitioning out of nappies can be a big deal for little ones and certainly sufficient to cause some temporary bumps with sleep, whether it happens at two, three or even older.
Difficulties such as falling asleep, staying asleep and nightmares can be one of the most obvious manifestations of anxiety in small children. As little imaginations expand and children become even more aware of the big wide world around them, some will experience anxiety – whether localised and temporary e.g. separation anxiety, or more generalised and persistent. When anxiety is the issue, supporting a child to manage this is key to achieving a more settled night.
As children move through their toddler years and beyond, there is greater divergence between things they need and things they want. Bear in mind that young children lack much of the life experience that underpins good decision-making. It is also very normal and healthy for a child to experiment with pushing back from time-to-time. Setting and holding empathetic, age-appropriate limits is a key part of parenting – and applies just as much to night-time parenting as it does during the day.
Is it always a “problem”?
Whatever the cause of your child’s new or continuing night-waking, it is always something that can be improved gently and without the process feeling like an ordeal. The first question though should always be, “is this a problem for us?” because there really only is a problem if sleep isn’t working for your family.