Q. My son is nearly 18 months and still hasn’t slept a full night. He always wakes and wants to get into my bed! And I give in…
After 18 months of interrupted sleep you must be feeling exhausted. Motherhood is challenging at the best of times and being sleep-deprived can make it even harder. With ongoing sleep issues, you will need an entire sleep overhaul and some significant lifestyle changes – but it will be worth it when both you and your little man start to get consolidated uninterrupted sleep. At this age, it is easy to resign yourself to perhaps accepting that it will never get better, but I can assure you with some subtle changes you will see improvements almost straight away, and in general a complete transformation within three to four weeks.
Where does he sleep?
First of all, you will need to start to define his place of sleep. Decide where you want him to sleep and stick to it. Make sure that he starts off his bedtime sleep in his own room and cot and then he can put himself to sleep without a dependency on a bottle/nursing or your presence. If this is the case then you will have to weaken this dependency by removing it and replacing with a calm bedtime routine, again, in his room only. I would recommend that you entirely avoid your bedroom both at bedtime and in the morning to help him understand the changes. I find the easiest way to do this is to start with you beside him at bedtime offering support and reassurance and then over a week to 10 days, move yourself out of the room in gradual phases.
Get the daytime routine right
More importantly, I would encourage you to ensure that you have a feeding and sleeping balance to the day ensuring that he gets enough to eat and drink throughout the day, coupled with appropriate outdoor activity and fresh air. At 18 months, he will probably require a nap from one and half to two and a half hours during the day. I would recommend that this sleep happens after 12 noon and after he has had his lunch. To establish a day sleep, you will need to make sure that he is woken in the morning no later than 7.30am. Finally, you will help him learn if you observe an early bedtime too. Start the process from around 6.30pm onwards having provided a drink of milk if appropriate before you head to the bedroom. Spend about 20-30 minutes winding him down before you want him to get into his cot and start going to sleep.
Work at it
When he wakes overnight you will have to break the cycle of waking with patience and consistency. “Giving in” is a very normal response, but it won’t help you achieve your sleep goals. It may be labour-intensive to begin with, but it will gradually improve and if he has stayed awake for a long period overnight, that will also shrink provided that you see it through each time. I wish you all the best and would strongly encourage you to make these adjustments as soon as possible.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children.
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