Expert Opinion

Common Sleep Issues & Mistakes, with Lisa Dinnie

What are some obvious signs that my little one might have a sleep problem?

Every parent will have a different perception of what a sleep problem is. I always say that nothing is a problem until it becomes a problem for the parent or child.

I think it is reasonable to think that in the first 4-6 months of sleep, babies’ sleep can be inconsistent for many, but within this timeframe, there should start to be some consolidation of nighttime sleep.

There are also medical sleep problems that can be underlying and cause loss of sleep for babies and parents. Things that might stand out as a sleep issue over time and as the baby gets older are:

  • Hourly wake ups
  • Consistently waking and screaming overnight and unable to be comforted
  • Not getting adequate amounts of sleep based of national guidelines
  • Medically, if your child is snoring, restless in their sleep, or mouth breathing – these can all be a sign of a medical condition rather than a behavioral sleep issue

My child has started sleepwalking – why is this happening? What can I do about it?

Sleepwalking can be quite common in your children, and it is something they can grow out of. It mostly occurs in the early hours of the night, and it is in the same category as night terrors.

When your child is sleepwalking, they are in a paranormal state of being, usually stuck between two sleep cycles. This can be caused by overtiredness, lack of sleep, stress, and even hereditary.

As with night terrors, the recommendation is to not wake the child as they can fight out or become distressed, and be incredibly confused as to how they have ended up where they are.

You are best to gently guide them back to bed, ensure their physical safety, and let them get back to sleep. The key is to ensure that they are getting adequate sleep, are not exposed to stress, and monitor their sleep hygiene – so things like limiting blue-white light exposure and TV viewing, as these can be incredibly stimulating.

What are some of the most common bedtime mistakes that parents make?

I don’t think parents set out to make mistakes around bedtime – I think they do what works for them until it stops working.

The key to a good bedtime routine is consistency around what you are doing and the timing of when you do it.

Babies are creatures of habit! So, when doing things differently every other night, it’s confusing and can lead to stressful bedtimes. Picking a series of 4 to five “events” that are must-dos to your bedtime is key –bath, play, milk, sleeping bag, cuddle, bed… Even saying the same thing each night, as well.

Another element that I think we as parents tend to do is rush bedtime. Everyone is tired and fractured by the end of the day, adults and children alike… But rushing bedtime can be stressful – it doesn’t give enough time to ensure connection, and it can heighten stimulation. We want bedtime to be full of connection and calm.

How much does food impact sleep? How much time should I allow between dinner and bedtime?

As adults, we don’t eat a main meal, chug down a litre of milk, and then toddle off to bed… That is a recipe for reflux. So, for our little ones, we do need to allow for some time between dinner, milk, and bed. Two hours before bedtime, I suggest should be dinner – particularly, if there is a milk feed to come after dinner, and I like to suggest to parents there be 15 minutes from the end of the milk feed before bed, which allows for digestion, teeth brushing, as well as time for a story, song, or cuddle before bed.

Now, there are loads of families that feed to sleep – if it is working, then it is working. Food of course can positively impact on sleep – there are foods that contain sleep-inducing chemicals – we want that goodness in our evening meal. We also want to be offering foods that keep us fuller for longer so that as a parent we are confident our child isn’t waking hungry.

Additionally, as we introduce solids to our babes, we must remember that the amounts we are offering should increase as baby gets older. Feeding solids until your little one turns away, and then offering a second dish is a great idea to ensure your baby is taking what they are needing and aren’t hungry.

Is it bad if I dont get my child up at the same time every day? Are weekend sleep-ins okay?

If you have prioritized working on your little ones’ sleep, then absolutely I think having them up around the same time each day can benefit their daytime nap schedule and leads to a bedtime that is relatively the same time each night. We want to regulate their internal body clock if they haven’t been sleeping well, as this benefits their day and night overall.

If your little one has their sleep sorted then, of course, a sleep-in here and there is totally fine. However, you have to expect that their nap will be affected in terms of timing and length, and bedtime the following night.

I work on an 80/20 rule: 80% of what we do forms the habit, while 20% is living your life (and having sneaky sleep in if you wish…).

About the author

Lisa is the founder of Cherish Your Sleep, Co-Regional Director (Australia/Pacific) of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, an experienced certified baby/child sleep consultant and a mother to 3 young children.
She has always loved children and has worked in the industry for over 20 years as a qualified child care worker, working primarily with children aged 0 – 3yrs.
A successful outcome is not only good for the parents and children, but also giver Lisa a sense of satisfaction and happiness – there’s nothing better than hearing from a parent who finally got their first full night sleep since having a child.
Becoming a mum and meeting and seeing other mums struggle with their babies and children’s sleep made Lisa really want to reach out and help. She doesn’t see that there is a one size fits all to helping families – sleep is almost like a Puzzle – you need all the pieces in place to achieve the full picture and those pieces are what she shares with families.
Lisa uses a holistic approach to sleep, focusing on emotional wellbeing of families and ensuring the parent child connection in not only maintained, but enhanced. She knows how easy it is to become overwhelmed and frustrated, so it’s her passion to help find solutions that will work for you, your baby and the rest of your family.
Photo by Artem Podrez