Just let us sleep!



Just let us sleep!


You’ve tried everything from shushing and patting to lullaby lights and dummies - but still your child won’t sleep. If this is you, then you’re not alone.

writes Lucy Jolin



An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme recently found that hospital attendances for children under 14 with sleep deprivation issues have tripled in the last 10 years. It can be hard to admit that we can’t cope - but could seeking help from sleep coaches and clinics be the answer?




The Sleep Clinic

In 2012, former teacher Vicky Dawson set up the Children’s Sleep Charity after experiencing sleep problems with her son. The charity provides support for families and training for professionals and commercial organisations, enabling them to offer sleep services in their own communities. Its sleep clinics currently have a success rate of over 90 per cent.

The charity doesn’t operate across the country, but it does offer a full sleep service in Doncaster. Parents who contact the service will be offered an appointment at one of their sleep clinics within 5 weeks. A sleep practitioner will then discuss their issues and design an individual sleep programme for them. That practitioner will give them support by text, email or telephone for five weeks following the initial appointment.

‘We’re very respectful of parenting styles,’ says Vicky, who is also on the board of the British Paediatric Sleep Association Board. ‘The key approach is that the parents decide how they want to tackle the issue. The first thing we do is look at why the sleep issue is happening and then we can start to look at the strategy.

‘Parents say they’ve tried a sleep routine and it’s not working,’ adds Vicky. ‘But if the problem isn’t a routine issue, it won’t work. We’ll look at things like the bedroom environment, or the screen time, or what the child is eating just before bed, changes within the family such as a new baby. There can be any number of reasons why the child isn’t sleeping.’

Vicky says that she’s inundated with calls from desperate parents. ’We don’t take sleep seriously as a society. We don’t understand how to encourage children to sleep better, and we don’t have a great number of practitioners trained to help. That’s why I set the charity up, as I’ve been a desperate mum myself. It’s really about educating children, parents and health professionals.’

Visit www.thechildrenssleepcharity.org.uk or call 01302 751 416




Vicky’s tips


Keep conditions the same throughout the night. If your child falls asleep with a lullaby light on and then the light goes off, chances are they’ll wake up.


Think about food before bed. Hot chocolate sounds nice, but it contains caffeine and sugar. Go for slow-release carbs like porridge to keep little tummies full.


Choose gentle activities before bed, such as those involving hand-eye co-ordination. Jigsaws, colouring and playdough are perfect.


Try to wake your child up at roughly the same time each day to help set their body clock.


Don’t wait until you’re at crisis point to seek help. Lack of sleep can affect everyone in the family.


All about sleep...


How long should my child sleep for?

There’s no set time for the amount of sleep children need, but as a general guideline, a one-year-old will need around 11 hours at night, a two-year-old around 11 hours 30 minutes, a three-year-old 11 to 12 hours and a four-year-old 11 hours 30 minutes. But some children are quite happy with more or less. Look at your child’s behaviour and mood to gauge how much sleep is needed, and don’t beat yourself up over 30 minutes here and there.


Why are children sleeping less these days?

Experts cite increased screen time, and less activity, as a big

factor. Parents might also get home later, meaning children are staying up late to see them.


When should I seek help?

Again, it’s all to do with your individual situation. If your child is grumpy and miserable on little sleep, and the whole family is grumpy and miserable as a result, it’s probably time to seek help before things get even worse.


What are the risks of sleep deprivation?

It can affect the whole family. Parents might be cross and miserable. Siblings will also have disturbed nights, and resent the non-sleeping child. Lack of sleep can seriously affect a parent’s performance at work. There are also physical and mental risks – a child who doesn’t sleep is more likely to have behaviour problems,

problems learning and concentrating at school, and to be overweight or obese.


The Sleep Coach


NNEB-qualified nursery nurse Jan Harrison has worked with children for 38 years. She began offering sleep coach services 20 years ago, when she was working as a maternity nurse. ‘The mum I worked for had a friend whose baby wasn’t sleeping, so I helped her,’ she says. ‘She told a friend, that friend told someone else,

and before I knew it, being a sleep coach was my job.’


Jan usually starts by asking parents to keep a diary of their child’s day for two days. ‘With little ones, poor sleep may be the symptom rather than the problem itself. Sometimes when you correct something that’s going on during the day, the sleep actually fixes itself. For example, a child may be doing things that don’t wear them out, but make them over-tired and wired instead.’


She’ll then work with parents to find a suitable plan that fits the

family and the child. ‘It’s no good going into a family that wants

to be completely baby-led and saying that they need a routine.

Parents have to feel comfortable with a plan, as they are the ones

who will be carrying it through.’


Jan offers several packages: parents can choose from just

telephone support following the initial consultation, or support in person overnight. ‘If they are committed, then I am committed.

As long as we are working together as a team and success rates are high I don’t give up until it’s done.’


Lack of sleep is far more widespread than it was a few years ago, says Jan. ‘You expect sleepless nights with children – it comes with the territory! But I think it has got worse, and it’s possibly to do with increased use of screens, children spending less time outside, and the way we discipline or don’t discipline our children. We offer them choices and try to negotiate with them, but that can contribute to a child not wanting to go to bed.’


Jan’s tips


Think about your child’s day as well as their behaviour at night: are they getting enough exercise and fresh air, or do they have too many activities?


Be consistent around bedtime. Put a routine in place, such as bath, quiet time, story – and stick to it.


Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime.


Don’t be a martyr. There’s no shame in asking for help.


‘I tried everything, but he would wake up nearly every hour’


When her son Ben, now two, was very young, Lucy Griffiths and her husband Tim took a late honeymoon, driving around California in a camper van. It was a wonderful holiday – but little Ben got used to sleeping in their bed. And when they returned home, he didn’t want to get back into his sleep routine. ‘He would wake up

almost every hour,’ says Lucy, who runs her own coaching for mums business at www.dreamitdoitloveit.com.


‘I tried everything – eventually, a friend of mine recommended sleep coach, Jan Harrison at Night Owls (www.nightowls.agency). My mum’s not nearby and when you’re sleep deprived, you need

someone who is a bit detached from the situation.’


Lucy already had a bedtime routine in place, so Jan stayed with the family for two nights to help put that into practice. ‘We’d put Ben down as normal, and then when he woke up Jan went into the

bedroom with me. I’d give him a cuddle, calm him down, she’d set a timer on her phone timer and we’d leave the room for 30 seconds. Then, when he woke again, we’d do the same thing but for 60 seconds, and so on. That first night, after about five goes, he slept through till five!’ It took around two weeks for Ben to adjust to the new routine. He’s still waking early at six, but now sleeps through the night. ‘Knowing I can get six or seven hours’ sleep makes a huge difference,’ says Lucy. ‘Jan’s approach worked for us.’






September/October 2017

All information is correct at time of publishing