Sleep strategies

Posted on 15 March 2016

Sleep difficulties can be hard to handle no matter how old your child is. Dr Heidi Ackermann, a paediatrician at Mediclinic George offers tips for safe co-sleeping and for handling night terrors.

Numerous parents prefer to share their beds with their babies if they have trouble settling or if they find it an effective means of breastfeeding and providing comfort. While Dr Ackermann does not advocate co-sleeping with children under the age of one due to an increased risk of SIDS, should parents decide to do so she suggests taking the following precautions to minimise the risks:

– Infants should always sleep on their backs, on firm clean surfaces, in the absence of secondhand smoke, under light and comfortable blanketing, and their heads should never be covered.
– Both parents should be aware that the baby or child is in the bed, and not sleep in the same bed as their children when intoxicated.
– Infants less than a year old should not share a bed with older siblings without at least one parent present who can take care the needs of the baby.

Night terrors
As children grow older, they tend to settle into happy bedtime routines. Yet for some, night terrors can cause traumatic sleep disruptions. ‘Night terrors are episodes in which children wake up suddenly at night and act very upset,’ explains Dr Ackermann. ‘They might scream and jump out of bed, as if running away from something scary. They might be sweating, breathing fast, or have a racing heart. During a night terror, you won’t be able to calm your child down, even if you try.’

‘A night terror usually lasts about 10 to 20 minutes, and the child does not remember the episode later,’ she continues. ‘A child might have two or three night terrors a week. It most commonly occurs in children between the ages of four and 12, and usually resolves in adolescence. There might be a genetic predisposition as sleep terrors are twice as common in children whose parents exhibited sleepwalking in childhood.’

Dr Ackermann offers the following tips for helping your child through night terrors:
– Stay with your child until the night terror stops;
– Do not try to wake your child up when he or she has a night terror;
– You might be able to prevent night terrors by making sure that your child gets enough sleep. Stick to a sleeping routine. Children less than six years of age should sleep 10 to 12 hours per night, and older children eight to 10 hours per night.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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