Ask the Experts: Sleep problems

By Published On: January 5th, 2012
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This month’s Ask the Experts topic is sleep. Anna Wahlgren, […]

This month’s Ask the Experts topic is sleep. Anna Wahlgren, author of the Good-Night’s Sleep Cure offers up her solutions to your baby’s sleep problems (and yours too).

When night falls, every child’s cry is a question. “Will I survive or will I die? Do I dare fall asleep, or will the wolf come for me?” A young child will continue to cry at night and to ask these questions until you, mother or father, answer these questions in a way that reassures the child. Your child will not accept anything less.
Babies know that they are helpless. They cannot ensure their own survival. Your baby needs you, his guarantor of survival, for absolutely everything. Without you to keep the perils of the night at bay, he will never be able to sleep. Your duty as the adult is to give answers. “Yes, you are going to survive. You are not going to die. The wolf will not come for you. I will stop him. You can sleep.”
How much should my child sleep?

A healthy two-month-old of normal weight is fully capable of sleeping through the night without a feeding. This is the rule of thumb:

  • One month old: 6 hours per night
  • Two months old: 8 hours per night
  • Three months old: 10 hours per night
  • Four months old: 12 hours per night.

The Good Night Sleep Cure (from 4 months)
I have developed something I call The Good-Night’s-Sleep Cure (found in my book A Good Night’s Sleep). It is just that—a cure for young children who need help to be able to sleep soundly and continuously all through the night. The underlying principle of the Good-Night’s-Sleep Cure is simple and well grounded: Calm the children where they are lying. And this must be done safely, proactively and preventively. Calming an infant is not difficult. The strategies in the Good-Night’s-Sleep Cure are so effective that you will be astonished at how easy it is. But how does it work?
Here is the tool box I use:
1. Food
First of all: an infant’s default condition, so to speak, is survival anxiety. This survival anxiety must be allayed immediately and continuously. All people know instinctively that what crying infants need, first and foremost, is food. It is only when their stomachs are full that other kinds of well-being is possible. You can never give a newborn too much food. It will come out one end or the other.
2. The Schedule
Do your thinking with a pencil and paper. First, decide when the night is going to begin so that it fits in with family life. And how long is the night to be? Continue with meal planning. You’re aiming for four substantial meals a day with three to three and a half hours in between, as well as an evening top up just before bedtime.
3. The Bedtime Laugh
Your child should have at least one good laugh a day, preferably in the evening. Ideally, a child should laugh all the way to bed! The Bedtime Laugh should not only be heard. Your child should feel it throughout her entire body.
4. Corrective Positioning
Corrective positioning sends a signal to a young child’s brain that all activity must cease. Now contact between the two of you is broken, and you leave the child to her sleep, which is hers and hers alone.
5. Fanning
Fanning is an easy way to calm the baby before sleep. Spread your hands as wide as you can and hold them in front of you so that you have a double fan. You are going to place both your hands on the child so that you cover as much of the little body as possible. Fanning involves applying vertical pressure. You are confirming the corrective positioning physically. Now it’s time to lie still.
6. Rocking
The goal of rocking is peace, not comfort or sleep. You are sending a message, not asking a host of insecure questions (or questions of any description). Effective rocking will calm even a hysterically screaming child in less than two minutes.
7. Buffing
Buffing can be compared with rocking and is based on the same principle. The difference is that it is you and your buffing movements, rather than those of the carriage, which enduce peace so efficiently. With your right hand clenched in a loose fist, you buff the little bottom rhythmically and firmly.
8. The Good Night Jingle
The Goodnight Jingle can be introduced already when the baby is a few months old, and can be used for many years. It should be repeated four times in quick succession with only the briefest pause in between. It’s rather like a cheer. The jingle you eventually come up with should be rhythmic, easy to sing and providing you with the scope for every conceivable tone of voice. It should be neither too short nor too long. It should not contain the child’s name, although it’s tempting I know. But you are not calling the child. With the help of your jingle, sleep is!
9. The Confirmation Jingle
The confirmation jingle is what should follow your child to dream land. It is the same as that the goodnight jungle, but it should be soft, encouraging and, as the name implies, confirming in tone. “You’re tucked and comfy and you’re going to sleep so, so well!”
The good night jingle conveys the message that it is time to sleep soundly and safely. The wolf is not at the door, and if he shows, the guns are loaded and security is guaranteed. When everything is ready, the confirmation jingle concludes the bedding procedure. Your child is drifting off or has perhaps already fallen asleep. The confirmation jingle slips in at the last moment and is your child’s reassuring companion on her journey to the Land of Nod.
10. An Attitude of Supreme Confidence
From the child’s point of view, an attitude of supreme confidence translates to security. This attitude of supreme confidence – of security – is the A to Z of childcare. As far as a young child’s sense of security goes, it’s much better to be confident and wrong than diffident and right!
Insecurity is the opposite of security. Insecurity, awkward “questioning” caution, anxiety and doubt immediately make young children nervous. To put it bluntly, they fear for their lives. A firm grip on the rudder, unequivocal decisiveness. An attitude of supreme confidence – “You are not in danger. I know how the world works. You have nothing to worry about.” – constitute nothing less than a survival guarantee to a child.
The Attitude of Supreme Confidence is perhaps the most important strategy in the entire arsenal of sleep techniques.
Note that although small children sleep far better and sounder on the bellies, The GNS Cure can of course be conducted while sleeping on the back as well (Ed. note:This is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for sleep positioning.) I always strongly recommend using a breathing monitor during the first year regardless of sleeping position.

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