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  • Nov 29, 2014
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LifestyleFamily & Education

Rookie Mum: Sleep deprivation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 2:50pm

My little boy, Tom, is a bad sleeper. We have had disrupted nights ever since he was born 14 months ago. Every time I manage to get him to sleep through the night and congratulate myself about it, sickness, teething or some mystery element strikes and turns my nights upside down again.

Neither my husband nor I have slept through the night for well over a year now and we are feeling the toll. We are often tired and cranky. Both of us are naturally active and energetic people and would like to return to form. Above all, I think Tom would benefit from unbroken sleep.

I have read many books on the subject and tried various methods, to no avail. A friend of mine whose two children woke frequently at night hired a nanny, Gail Johnson. I call her out of desperation.

"Sleep problems are usually unintentionally created by parents who think they are doing good by their child," says Johnson. "Children learn by the standards parents set."

I know that I am guilty of two very bad habits: if Tom wakes in the night I give him milk and if he cries for any length of time I rock him to sleep.


Johnson says that, by now, Tom should be sleeping 12 hours a night and two hours during the day. She suggests that, as well as providing a structured bedtime routine, we use a "progressive waiting" technique when he wakes in the night. This technique is often called Ferberising after Richard Ferber, the American doctor who popularised it.

"Go in and settle a crying child but then leave the room and go in every five to seven minutes to reassure - pat him, lie him down, verbally reassure to try and bring down anxiety levels," she says. But I am not allowed to pick him up, rock him or give him milk.

"On the second night, go in five minutes after the initial cry and then in five minute increments (so five, 10, 15 minutes). I would not pick up the child or hang around as I believe this upsets them more. It's best to make it as quick and stress free as possible for all involved."

The upside of this technique is that it's known to work quickly - in three to five nights your child should be sleeping through. The downside is that you have to listen to your baby cry, which a lot of people, myself included, find extremely hard to do.

Johnson consoles me: "In my opinion, it's usually worse for parents."

We set to it. I stop rocking Tom and let him settle himself to sleep for naps and bedtime. In a few days the heart-wrenching, lengthy screams become a grizzle and he starts to drop off in minutes. Progress!

And the nighttimes?

It goes like this: on night one, he wakes and cries three times for 45 minutes, 15 minutes and 10 minutes each. I go in and do the checking method. On night two, he wakes twice and cries for much less time. Night three and four he sleeps from 7pm to 6am.

I cannot lie; it hasn't been completely plain sailing since then. Tom often wakes up at 5.30am and nothing, except milk if we're very lucky, will get him back to sleep at that time. But at least we're moving in the right direction - no more rocking to sleep or multiple night waking.


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