With the Happy Sleepers Program, it’s all about teaching your infant or toddler how to sleep through the night. I’ve taught the following strategies to hundreds of families through group seminars and one-on-one consultations, and have watched as amazed parents suddenly find themselves getting a full night’s sleep after only a few nights of implementing my “Happy Sleepers” system.
One of the main reasons this system is so effective is that I always give my clients a brief lesson on exactly why sleep is so important – both for them and for their children.
Sleep is something we all spend a lot of time doing (though maybe not so much in our first few months as new parents). Yet most of us don’t understand what sleep really is, or why we seem to need so much of it. As a result, almost everyone takes sleep for granted – that is, until we start not getting enough of it!
Many of my clients offer clear examples of how damaging it can be to neglect your own sleep needs. More often than not, an exhausted mother breaks down in tears and frustration at some point during my meeting with her. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel as though they have lost all control over their lives after just a week or two of baby-induced sleep deprivation. They’ll also often confess to me that their relationship with their partner is beginning to suffer.
In many households, one parent has to go off to work early every morning, which can make night-time wakings a real bone of contention. On the one hand, Mom or Dad really does need sleep to deal with the demands of a day at the office, but it is also important for the other parent to get his or her sleep as well. After all, a day with the children is awfully demanding too!
The majority of the families I work with, the mother ends up fighting most of the night-time battles all by herself. Unfortunately, this can often lead to feelings of resentment toward her partner, or even toward her child.
A study in the June 2001 issue of Paediatrics related infant sleep problems to postnatal depression and showed that mothers of poor sleepers consistently have more depressive symptoms than mothers of good sleepers. This makes perfect sense; anyone’s mood is bound to turn sour after several days – or weeks, or even months – of continued sleep deprivation.
This lack of sleep can cause parents to become obsessed with the idea of sleep. I remember meeting with a mother named Wendy who told me an interesting story:
“I remember looking at other women on the streets or in grocery stores and instead of thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I had hair like hers,’ or ‘What a great figure she has,’ I started thinking, ‘Look how well‑rested she looks… I bet she sleeps through the night!’ Whenever I would meet with other mothers and discover that their children had always slept through the night, I would seethe with jealousy! They would try to offer helpful hints, or say things like, ‘He’ll grow out of it,’ but I was really beginning to doubt that he ever would! There were even nights I would go to bed and pray – to whoever was listening – that tonight be the night my son would finally sleep for more than three hours!”
The frustration of not getting enough sleep is by no means limited to mothers, however. A father at one of my seminars began the day by declaring that his daughter was the first and only child he was ever going to have. It was just too hard on both him and his wife to be getting up every two hours during the night. He felt his wife was taking out all her frustrations on him, and it was causing too much strain on their relationship. He swore that if things didn’t change quickly and dramatically, he was going to have a vasectomy! (Thankfully, his daughter’s sleep issues were soon under control, and he and his wife are now planning to have another baby very soon.)
Of course, if you are reading this book, you most likely already know how terrible it feels not to be getting enough sleep, so let’s move on to a brief discussion of why your child may be having difficulty sleeping.
How important is sleep?
“Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain’s battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best.”
– Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
When I am explaining the importance of sleep to my clients during a seminar, I like to make a comparison between sleeping and eating. Both are necessary for survival. When people eat an unhealthy diet, they become malnourished and their body suffers. In the same way, people who have unhealthy sleep habits become mentally malnourished. Lack of sleep starves them of the energy they need to be happy and well adjusted.
No sane parents would raise their children entirely on a diet of candy, because everyone knows that it would not only be terribly unhealthy for their children, but would also teach them bad eating habits – habits they would carry with them throughout their childhood and probably for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, our society isn’t nearly as well-educated about the importance of sleep as we are about the importance of eating a balanced and nutritious diet.
The good news is that doctors and the rest of the medical community have become more vocal about the importance of a healthy night’s sleep in the past few years. Dr. William Dement, founder of the Stanford University Sleep Research Centre, has conducted extensive research that suggests sleep is the single most important factor in predicting how long people will live – more influential than diet, exercise, or heredity.
Our society is especially ignorant of the importance of sleep for infants and toddlers. Current research shows that between 20 and 30 percent of all infants and toddlers will have some difficulty sleeping. And though many parents tell themselves, “They’ll row out of it,” the truth is that the majority of these cases persist for three to five years.
Infants or toddlers who aren’t getting enough sleep are easy to spot. They will frequently rub their eyes and faces throughout the day – even if they have only been awake for an hour – and they are more likely than well-rested children to suddenly “lose it.” We’ve all had experiences where our child starts throwing a tantrum in public; these breakdowns are far more common for children who are tired than for those who have been getting the sleep they need.
Many sleep-deprived children also start to develop behaviours that are usually called “overactive” or “hyperactive.” They may even be labelled as “attention deficit” children. Dr. Judith Owens, the director of the Paediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic and the Learning, Attention, and Behaviour Program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, notes that there is a huge overlap between sleep deprivation and psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The bottom line is this: Sleep is tremendously important. It is just as important for your child as a healthy diet or a loving home.
If your child is not getting enough sleep every day, he is being put at a disadvantage. He will not be able to deal with the pressures of the day as well as his peers, and he will probably have a more difficult time acquiring and retaining knowledge than a child who is getting the proper amount of sleep.
The importance of the “right kind” of sleep
Sleep experts agree that “consolidated” (uninterrupted) sleep is the most restful and healthy kind of sleep for both infants and adults. Sleep that is interrupted by one or more awakenings during the night usually leads to daytime sleepiness, a decrease in mental flexibility and attention, and mood impairments.
In other words, sleep that is broken up by several “night wakings” is not the same as sleeping through the night. So it’s important that adults and children get all the consolidated sleep they need. Even adults who have had just one night of fragmented sleep show a dramatic reduction in motivation and attention. They often feel overwhelmed by the tasks of the day and have difficulty making decisions. The effects on infants and children are even more harmful.
In order for both adults and children and adults to function at their peak performance, they must be getting adequate, consolidated sleep. Children who sleep 10 to 12 hours a night wake up well-rested, attentive, cheerful, and are best able to cope with and learn from their environment. Parents, too, will feel better equipped to perform the demanding tasks of work and family life.
Sleep is important for you, too!
I hope you’re starting to see how incredibly important sleep is for your child. Once you’ve implemented the system in this book and your little one is consistently sleeping through the night, I think you’ll be amazed at how much happier and more alert she will be during the day. But it is just as important that you understand how important sleep is for you and your partner as well! Sleep deprivation is a powerful thing, and if you’ve noticed a negative change in yourself and your spouse since your child arrived (or since her sleep difficulties began), there’s a good chance that this change has been caused by the fact that you’re simply not getting enough sleep.
For many new parents, the first few months of parenthood are the first time in their lives when they are prevented from getting as much sleep as they want. Gone are the days of lazing around in bed until 11:00 on a Saturday morning – because your new baby is now waking you up at 5:00 a.m.! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re also getting up a number of times every night to nurse or soothe your child back to sleep.
Now, if this is your first child and he or she is less than a few months old, you might not notice the effects of this sleep deprivation. After all, you’ve got this wonderful new person to care for, and nothing else seems to matter very much. But believe me, after a few more months of not getting enough sleep, not even the joy of being a new parent will replace your need for a decent night’s sleep!
The National Sleep Foundation recently released a comprehensive study showing that parents of children with sleep difficulties get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per night – considerably less than the eight hours adults typically need to feel rested and function optimally.
And as we all know, when we’re tired, we’re cranky.
And when we’re cranky, we tend to take it out on those closest to us. For most families, this means that your spouse is the one who receives the brunt of your grouchiness. The job of raising children is tough at times, and you need to be able to count on the love and support of your partner. That support can be hard to muster up at times if you’re always at each other’s throats because you’re both so darn tired all the time! In addition, tired parents are likely to suffer at work. Of course, employers are usually pretty forgiving of the forgetfulness and fatigue new parents experience during the first few months of their child’s life, but if you’ve been showing up for work utterly exhausted for the past year, then you can be pretty sure that the quality of your work has been suffering.
Problems with your spouse or poor work performance are frightening possible outcomes. However, the most serious consequence of sleep deprivation is that it can lead to dangerous feelings of disappointment, resentment, or even anger toward your child. Early childhood is when we learn a great deal about emotions, so if you are often grouchy with your child, your behaviour can have a strong negative impact on how your child interacts with others as she gets older.
Some of my clients have privately confessed to being so fed up with their child’s crying in the middle of the night that they have occasionally had thoughts about shaking their baby. Of course, they’ve never done it. But the thought itself can be terrifying for parents. And I’m sure that for every parent who has told me about these feelings, there are a dozen more who feel the same way but are too embarrassed to tell me.
So sleep is undeniably important – not just for your child, but for you and the rest of your family as well. If you have children who are already in school and are being awakened in the night by a crying baby, it can have a terrible effect on their emotional health and, of course, their schoolwork.
The good news is that there is an easy solution to all these problems. Once your child is sleeping through the night, most of these problems will start to melt away. You and your spouse will be able to start spending some quality time together again… You’ll feel ready to face the day when you wake up in the morning… Your friends and co-workers will start to notice a real change in your mood and the way you look.
Sound good? Then let’s get started!
For more information on sleep training, please check out my Happy Sleepers program. I guarantee, you’ll be glad you did it!
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I’m Christine, the founder of Happy Sleepers. I am an ICU nurse, Midwife, Qualified Sleep Consultant and I’m a mum of twins. I’ve helped 100’s of babies and parents in the past and now I’m here to help YOU! 🙂