‘All About Sleep’: Preschooler Nightwaking

By: Dr. Nicky Cohen, Clinical Psychologist

by Dr. Pamela Mitelman
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Question:

My 4-year-old keeps coming into our bed in the middle of the night…any advice on how to stop her waking at night and sleeping in our bed?

Dr. Mitelman and Dr. Cohen:

Typically, a 4-year old child will sleep most restfully in her own sleep space (own bed), if possible in a room separate from her parents. As a first step, it will be essential that she remain in her own bed for the entire night. That is, she begins the night and wakes in the morning in her own bed.

Once you decide that you want her to sleep in her own room for the entire night, come up with a plan that you think you can stick to. To get her used to sleeping in her own room for the whole night, a parent can sleep in her bedroom – ideally in a separate sleep space such as a mattress on the floor – for the first 5-7 days of sleep training.

Your plan should include establishing a calming and predictable bedtime routine that finishes in her bedroom in low-level lighting. Introducing a security object such as little ‘blankies’ for her to bond to and sleep with can be helpful. It is important that she know how to fall asleep on her own at bedtime. Falling asleep from a tired but awake state without a parent present is essential to sleeping through the night. If she doesn’t have this important sleep “skill’, she will get stuck during the night and need your help.

If she is falling asleep on her own, but is still waking at night then it is important to look at what is maintaining her waking – that is – what is she waking for?! At her age, bed-sharing, and other types of parental contact can keep a child waking at night.

A ‘morning signal’ (such as a night-light attached to a timer) can be helpful to teach children when it is time to get up (the light is on) and when they must return to sleep on their own (the light is off).

A reward system can be helpful to reinforce positive behaviour. Things may get worse before they get better but developing a good plan and being consistent often results in improvement!

 By: Dr. Pamela Mitelman , Clinical Psychologist & Dr. Nicky Cohen, Clinical Psychologist

Disclaimer

The information provided by Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Individuals are encouraged to speak with a physician or other health care provider if they have concerns regarding their child’s sleep and before starting any treatment plan. The information provided by Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman is provided with the understanding that Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman are not rendering clinical, counselling, or other professional services or advice. Such information is intended solely as a general educational aid and not for any individual problem. It is also not intended as a substitute for professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique facts.

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