Sleeping Problems

Sleep ...............glorious sleep!

Sleeping ProblemsWhy is it that when we are babies and children, we spend a lot of our time trying to avoid sleep, and then when we become adults all we long for is a good nights sleep, and yet children seem to prevent that from every angle. You are either kept awake by frequent feeding, dummy calls, nightmares, and then worry about your teenagers being out and about at night!


It is very important that you consult your Health Care Practitioner before attempting any form of sleep training, to ensure that your baby is not ill. Each sleep training technique approaches teaching your baby to sleep in a different way, and the age at which you decide to sleep train is an individual choice, however it is not advised to sleep train when your baby is sick.



Why is sleep important for babies?

Why is sleep important for babies?

  • Physical recuperation
  • Physical growth 
  • To develop a strong immune system    
  • Brain development
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Information processing

As you can see there are a number of reasons to ensure that you try and help your baby to get the sleep they require. And the fact that for the first 3 years of their lives, a baby is asleep more than he is awake, emphasises that sleep is even more important during this phase of life.


How does my baby sleep?

How does your baby Sleep?A Baby's sleep pattern is made up of two types of sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep.

REM sleep occurs when the baby is in an "active state". You will notice movement under her eyelids and twitches in her body

Non-REM sleep on the other hand moves through stages from light sleep to deep sleep, when her body is relaxed and it is difficult to wake her. Babies generally sleep in sleep cycles of approximately 45 minutes.


Types of sleeping problems

Sleep problems come in various shapes and sizes. But all are equally as frustrating and tiring! Some examples of sleep problems are listed below, but this is not a comprehensive list.

  • Frequent night waking
  • Inability to put themselves to sleep without being rocked or fed to sleep- ie unable to self-soothe.
  • Baby wakes early in the morning and won't go back to sleep
  • Baby resists sleep and fights to stay awake
  • Baby wakes up at the same time every night and won't go back to sleep for a lengthy period.
  • Baby "Cat naps" during the day, in other words the baby sleeps for very short periods, anywhere from 5-45 minutes at a time, and is unable to link sleep cycles.
  • Baby won't sleep unless you are in the room

Causes of sleeping problems

  • Hunger


  • Wet or soiled nappy– some babies are extremely sensitive to wet or soiled nappies, and will not sleep unless this is rectified.


  • Too hot or too cold- A baby can't regulate its own temperature as well as we can and as such relies on its care giver to adequately control their temperature. I was once advised that a young baby needs one more layer than you are currently wearing in the first 3 - 6 months of life. This seemed to help me in dressing my babies.

Tips to improve babys sleep

  • Consult your Health Care Practitioner before you embark on any form of sleep training  to ensure your baby is healthy and not suffering, or in any form of pain.


  • Establish a good routine  for your baby. Most babies thrive on routine, and it certainly makes the mom's life easier when she knows what to expect in the day.


  •  Seek the advice of a Sleep and Routine specialist. They will tailor-make a program especially suited to you and your family. This is probably the best advice, as each baby is different, and so is each family. You have different demands and schedules, and as such a specific plan of action can be tailored to your needs.


  • There are a number of good books on the market which will definitely help in establishing a good routine and sleep pattern.


  • For the first few months it is advisable to swaddle you baby in a cotton swaddling blanket. This will ensure that your baby feels safe and secure, as they did in the womb. Flailing arms and legs may wake a sleeping baby.

Tips for parents to survive a lack of sleep

  • Go to bed early!! Babies generally sleep best before 12am and therefore, so should you! Yes it is frustrating, as you have so much to do or would really like some down time, but this phase is short lived and you need the sleep more!


  • Take turns. Take turns with your spouse or ask a friend to help out for a night, if your baby is formula fed, (apologies to the breast feeding moms, as dads and friends can't help share the load unless you express!)



The information in this article was reviewed for medical accuracy by, Paediatrician and Allergy Specialist, Dr Claudia Gray (MBChB (UCT), MRCPCH (London), MScClin Pharm(Surrey), DipPaedNutrition (UK), PostgradDipAllergy (Southampton), Certified Paediatric Allergologist (SA))

Dr Gray works at the allergy clinic at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town, and has a private practice at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town, contact 021 531 8013.