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Dr Chris Steele



We are all different individuals and so our daily requirements of food, exercise, relaxation and sleep vary from person to person. Babies are no different. Some require a lot of sleep and, unfortunately for the poor parents, others don't seem to need much sleep at all! The sleeplessness of the baby does more damage to the parents than it seems to do to the innocent child. Many's the night when I've driven around in the car, at four in the morning, with one our little ones who was intent on an all-night marathon of wakefulness. I discovered that the one thing that induced sleep was to take the little tinker (I'm being rather polite in my choice of language here!) out for a drive. The rhythmic movement of the car was guaranteed to make those eyelids heavy - the child's as well as mine!

Babies that do not sleep for long stretches of time are often intelligent, lively and very interested in everything around them. My wife and I had to keep telling ourselves that, night after night. It wasn't a great consolation, when I'd been on call for each of the previous seven nights.

By about the age of 18 months, 70% of babies are sleeping through the whole night.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here is a guide for the amount of sleep a child needs as he grows:

Age Average hours of sleep required in 24 hour period
Birth to twelve months 12 - 18 hours
1 - 3 years 10 - 14 hours
3 - 6 years 9 - 12 hours



Draw up a duty rota, so that one night you're on duty if the baby wakes and the next night your partner is on duty. That way you will be guaranteed 3 - 4 good nights sleep each week.

Try to tire your baby out during the day with all sorts of activities and interests - you'll probably shatter yourself in the process as well!

As bedtime approaches, don't get the little one too excited. Try to plan a relaxing winding down routine just before bedtime. Babies soon come to appreciate a 'set routine' and remember, a routine is a stabilizing influence and is very comforting to a young child.

Soothing music, nursery rhymes, dimmed lighting, cuddling and rocking the child all help to induce a sleepy state of mind. A bedtime feed or drink can be a useful part of the routine. Disconnecting the phone and keeping down the volume on TV, radio and hi-fi's can all help, but having said that it's quite surprising how quickly a tired child can sink into a deep sleep despite a cacophony of intense sound blasting out from the teenager's bedroom next door!

If possible give your baby his own bedroom. A baby that sleeps in your bedroom can disturb your night repeatedly, as you become aware of every breath, groan or sigh he makes.

Don't always respond immediately when he wakes and cries in the night. Leave him for a while to see if he goes back to sleep again, and if after 5 - 10 minutes he hasn't done so, lift him, straighten his bed, cuddle him, give him a drink or a feed if you think he needs it and maybe he needs a nappy change. Then put him back to bed. Staying with him and sitting by his bed can reassure him enough to help him get back to sleep.

Only bring him into your bed as a last resort. Babies are not stupid - they are very quick to learn all the tricks in the book! If crying gets him your immediate attention and a full night in the comfort and security of a parent's bed, he'll do it - every night without fail!

Being hard hearted and stern does not usually work, it only upsets the child further. So bite your bottom lip firmly and try to remain calm and relaxed - your child is very sensitive to your feelings!

Leaving a low light on in the baby's bedroom might be helpful.

Check his bedding and clothing are not causing any problems.

Have plenty of posters on the walls, and plenty of toys and baby books by the bed so that he can amuse himself without disturbing you - fingers crossed!

If the worst comes to the worst, you may have to put up with your baby's erratic sleep patterns. You may end up playing with him when he's awake and sleeping when he sleeps - even if that is during the day! These are the sacrifices you have to make for your children!

Try to be patient. It all works out well in the end - eventually!

If it all does become too much for you, speak to your doctor. He may help by prescribing a short course of a mild sedative to get your child into a sleep routine and save your sanity.