HELP - My Child Won't Sleep!

November 06, 2017

When our child was six months old, we made a decision that surprised some of our friends and family members, shocked others, and produced, overall, an outcry that we were pretty sure could have been heard around the world.

We decided to co-sleep.

Yes, I know. There are dangers. (We researched them.) There could be psychological consequences. (We looked into that possibility, too.) And after all, if a child won't get out of the bed as an infant, isn't it true that he'll NEVER get out of the bed? He might wind up 17 years old, coming back in from a night at the school dance to toss the car keys down on the dresser and crawl under the covers with Mom and Dad. Right?

The truth is that co-sleeping isn't for everyone. Nor is ANY one sleeping method. In the final analysis, getting a child to go to sleep can be a learning curve not only for each family, but each subsequent child born into the same family. No two children are alike - and no two sleep alike.

Here's what to do if your child just won't sleep...and you're ALL going crazy.

SLEEP BUSTER #1: Poor Air Quality in the Bedroom

Whether your child sleeps with you or in her own room and own bed/crib, poor air quality can cause wakefulness.

But if there's poor air quality in the home, why then aren't you waking up, you may be asking?

Infants breathe primarily through their noses; as we grow up, we learn to automatically open our mouths if our noses are stuffy, even while we're sleeping. Your little one may not be at that stage yet, and dry or irritated air passages could be keeping her up when she should be getting her forty winks.

If you suspect allergens or dry air, invest in a quality air purifier and/or a humidifier (depending upon which issue you're having in your home). Look for a whisper-quiet device, although some infants may benefit from a quiet hum as background noise, so if one choice doesn't work, try the other.

SLEEP BUSTER #2: An Uncomfortable Mattress or Pillow

Let's get this out of the way first: NEVER put a pillow into the bed or crib with a child under the age of two.

When you do give her her first pillow, make sure it's made of natural, breathable materials and has enough support that she isn't sinking into it at night.

As for the mattress, buy your infant's or toddler's mattress NEW. Do not, no matter how tempted, purchase a used mattress. You will have a better chance of a lump-free, mites-free, mold-free mattress if you purchase it directly and particularly if it comes with a warranty.

You've probably slept (or tried to sleep) on uncomfortable mattresses before. You know how that went...so imagine how it is for your child. She's just as uncomfortable and yes, she's going to cry about it. So if your child just can't settle down and seems uncomfortable or cries, check the mattress and switch it out with another brand or firmness to help your child settle in and relax.

SLEEP BUSTER #3: Loneliness 

Yes, some children do just get lonely. It's your call whether you decide to have your child in her own room, in your room, or actually in your bed. (ALWAYS engage in SAFEST sleep practices and if co-sleeping with a child under the age of three, purchase a QUALITY co-sleeper bed or breathable mesh-sides co-sleeper bed insert.) 

If you don't wish to have your child sleep with you, try leaving her door open and calling out to her in increasing intervals, "I'm here. Good night, honey." Call out after 5 minutes, after 10 minutes, after 15 minutes and so on. Sometimes a child just needs to hear your voice in order to feel secure enough to drift into sleep. You should find that after a night or two, you're only calling out once or twice...then not at all.

SLEEP BUSTER #4: Fears/Nightmares

Similar to the above, some children simply need more reassurance than others. If your child wakes from a nightmare, don't let her scream alone in her room so she can "learn there's nothing to be afraid of." That will only add to her terror and increase the chances of it happening again due to a now-redoubled fear.

Instead, go into the child's room, quietly and calmly touch her back and soothe her WITHOUT showing drama, fear or anger. Simply calmly repeat to her that it's all right, she only had a dream. If you're not against this practice, ask her whether she'd like the night light or the hall light on. Banishing the shadows can go a long way toward allaying a child's fears so she can get back to sleep (and so can you).

SLEEP BUSTER #5: Undiagnosed Physical Issues

Our youngest child had GERD. Because it was delayed and because he didn't vomit or excessively burp, we had no idea, until we took him to the doctor in desperation. When he lay down at night, the acid moved up his esophagus, causing him extreme pain that he was too young to verbally express.

If you're at a total loss as to what is keeping your child from sleeping, and you've (pardon me here) exhausted all other possibilities, a visit to the doctor may be in order. Your child may be experiencing some physical issue that's keeping her from falling, or staying, asleep. Sometimes one diagnosis can change your child's entire night - and yours.

The above are only suggestions; always seek the advice of a professional over those of anyone on the internet or elsewhere. If you've ruled out anything serious, go ahead and try the methods above. Any one or a combination just might be the combination that unlocks that perfect night's sleep for your child.