Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Av 5761 - August 8, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Sleepless Children
by A. Ross

There are no easy answers to sleep problems and there is no guarantee that any particular method will work with your child.

If advice does not sound sensible or humane, it is not good advice!

Sleepless nights can cause parents tremendous problems. Before discussing the causes and treatment of disturbed sleep, it is worth expanding on what is considered `normal' sleep. Many books and articles have been published which give guidelines for what is `normal.' If a parent reads that an average four- year-old should sleep for ten hours a night, he can measure his own child against that average. But what is he supposed to do if the child does not do what the book says? Is it a tremendous cause for concern if the child does not measure up to the average? If your baby is not a `good' baby, does it follow that he is a `bad' baby? This problem occurs in many areas of child development. New parents and not-so-new parents should be warned about averages. It is a mistake to take them too seriously.

Researchers on sleep have to choose available subjects. Thus, research on children's sleep patterns tends to be carried out on newborn babies who are in hospitals, and on children in institutions. Such children tend to have a different incidence of sleep problems than children in a family home, although definite observations have been made which apply to almost all children.

During the first three or four months of his life, the baby's regular rhythm gradually begins to fit in with the 24 hour day. All parents feel that the ideal development is for the waking periods to occur by day, and for most of the sleep periods to occur by night. In the first week, the average longest sleeping period is about four hours. By the fifth month, the average longest sleeping period is eight and a half hours. By the time they are a year old, there are only two, or perhaps three periods in the twenty-four hours. By the age of three, very many children sleep only at night, although others need an afternoon nap till they are about five.

If Baby doesn't fit into these averages, parents feel there are problems. If parents do not feel it is a problem, then perhaps it isn't. A first-time mother who isn't working can perhaps suit her timetable to that of the child. Children vary tremendously in the amount of sleep they seem to need. Some children sleep happily right through the night, with additional naps of an hour or two by day, while others only sleep solidly at night for an hour or two, yet rarely need a daytime nap.

In the "olden times," newborn babies were fed, changed, made comfortable and put back to sleep in a room of their own. It was felt that they were meant to sleep twenty-two hours out of the twenty-four. Theories about sleep requirements have change drastically since then. Unfortunately, babies don't read books. Nor can they tell the time. A baby does not know that it is anti- social to wake up at three in the morning and want to play.

In a piece of research carried out over thirty years ago in Nottingham, England, parents of over 700 one-year-old babies were interviewed. 35% of mothers reported that they had been awakened at some time during the night preceding the interview and in almost every case, one of the parents had had to get up for the child. Interestingly, 26% of these babies were reported to be waking regularly every night.

The effects of repeatedly disturbed nights on parents can be devastating. The first few weeks of a new baby are tolerable. After all, you have a new baby and you expect to be up at night. But the weeks go by and Baby doesn't settle down. The parents, or often only the mother -- if she feels that Father has to learn or go to work and she `does nothing all day' anyway -- are chronically short of sleep. To make things worse, friends' children seem to be angels and sleep peaceful undisturbed sleep from six in the evening till seven in the morning. Furthermore, whenever you complain about the wakeful child, your friends look at this bright- eyed baby and remark that he doesn't look as if he is sleep deprived and has been crying all night. Which makes you feel inadequate and a failure.

If the effect on the parents and on the family could be ignored, it is generally agreed by experts that babies and children get enough sleep. Doctors are usually more concerned with how much sleep the parents are gettng. A child, especially a first one, might go to bed (reluctantly) at about seven or eight o'clock, wake up again at eleven, and want to play or be entertained or cuddled till two in the morning. Mother finally manages to get to bed, only to be woken again at six by a cheerful, bright-eyed child. She feels tired and frustrated, and if truth be told, sometimes a little resentful.

It is not only the parents who suffer from a demanding wakeful child. Other children can be disturbed and frustrated by the noise in their bedroom or in the room next door. When parents are exhausted, there is extra tension in the home and brothers and sisters will suffer. They find themselves shouted at for small misdemeanors simply because a tired mother's patience has worn out. They do not understand why they get screamed at for spilling a drop of milk at breakfast. Mother always seems to be holding the baby and has no time to chat or play as she used to. She feels guilty and they feel jealous!

If one lives in close proximity to neighbors, that, too, can be an additional problem. The baby wakes up and you think everyone can hear the screaming. Young mothers in particular feel that everyone is listening to their `failure' as a mother. They feel if they were miles away from anyone, life would be simpler and less embarrassing and they wouldn't have to jump up at the first whimper.

In the world at large, there is an increase in the phenomenon of battered babies. G-d forbid that any parent would want to injure their own child. But most parents who have been walking the floor for hours with a restless screaming baby can understand the feelings of frustration and anger which surface occasionally.

There are no easy answers to sleep problems and there is no guarantee that any particular method will work with your child. Every parent and every child is different. If advice does not sound sensible or humane, it is not good advice! Parents are often given unrealistic expectations of sleeping times and ineffective advice in managing the problem. Parents know their own children and are quite right to ignore the advice of experts if it sounds wrong to them.

[To be continued...]


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