Frequently Asked Questions

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I have an 8 month old boy who goes to sleep perfectly well – in my bed - but he screams when I try to transfer him to his cot. He was a prem baby at 36 weeks and I have always felt the need to be near him. How can I get my bed back without him in it? Marie

Hi Marie,

You are stuck in a habitual pattern of sleep routines that have gone past their sell-by date. Co-sleeping with infants is quite common in some cultures but it is thought in the UK to increase the risk of harm to the new-born baby.

Probably the most important point of change is that you are deciding how it’s going to be from now on. It is very distressing though for parents to be doing things that greatly distress their baby – so Baby Power often wins because he can change your mind through your heart.

When you take the decision to change you must tell yourself that the screaming won’t last, that he will adapt to your way of doing things and life will be better for everyone. But there are ways and ways – you can do it the harsh way and leave him to fret and cry which then creates an association of distress with his cot – which should be the safest place in his world.

A kinder way is to set a date, say two weeks ahead which will be the change day. Then you begin to introduce new bedtime experiences for him to enjoy as part of settling down. It may be a song, a new musical mobile, maybe a change in the bedtime sequencing. Place him in the cot and stay with him when he is awake and repeat the new “games” so he forms an association with the cot which is enjoyable. He may settle in the cot for his

daytime nap with the same familiar things. When you do the transfer he will have some of the good things to bring with him. One of the changes could be to include another person in his routines who would do the same things – in that way taking the pressure off you. He may fret and cry but it is important that you do not lift him out but stay around and repeat the good lullaby for him. He will get used to it.

I am in my early 50’s and I get off to sleep in my chair in front of the TV every night. I live alone so there is no-one to wake me. When I do wake up at about 2 am I am cold and then when I get into bed I can’t get back to sleep for maybe 2 or 3 hours. I never plan to fall asleep in the chair – it just happens. Rob

So many people get into bad habits like this.

Your body clock is causing you to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, before you are ready for bed. It is the regularity of this pattern of falling asleep that is keeping it going.

Your best plan would be to go to bed later, fall asleep in your bed and wake up refreshed after a good 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep. The way your body is doing it leaves you feeling cheated and tired.

You need to change what you do and take charge of your body clock. Decide on your time for the bedtime routine to start and the time you want to fall asleep. Turn off the TV and move to another chair. Choose a quiet activity to keep your mind awake – like a puzzle, a book to read, sketching something, looking through photo albums, reading a cook book to decide on tomorrows dinner, write a daily journal for ten minutes, play music, try yoga exercises. Use an alarm clock or timer to

tell you when to get into bedtime mode. Go through the usual routines of preparation and be sure to get in bed at the right time. You might use a relaxation technique to help you clear your mind and let the melatonin do its work.

And remember – timing is everything!

Sleep well, Rob – let us know how you get on.

My two children are boys aged 8 and 10 years old. They have had to share a bedroom since my mum (who has Alzheimer’s) had to move in with us last year. The boys were not happy about this at all, although they love their Nan. It feels like they take it out on David (my husband) and me every night at bedtime. The younger one, Zac, goes up first, and he does everything he can to put off getting ready for bed. When Ronan goes up, there is a row immediately for any reason. “He’s taken my stuff - He’s moved my things - He’s annoying me”. They are like a team but we would probably try to ignore it except that my Mum goes to bed early and they wake her up with all the shouting and she starts to relive her own childhood bedtimes which were really harsh. We then have to sort out the boys and try to calm mum and reassure her while there is a war going on! It can last for hours . . . Any ideas to help us really welcome

Hi Claire and David and Ronan and Zac,

Thanks for bringing this question which is not uncommon.

You have a number of competing priorities in your family!

Zac and Ronan have already established a team approach to protest at the changes they have been made to “suffer” and while it seems as if they are acting against each other, arguing and fighting, the effect is that their parents have to engage in the fight with them to protect your poor mum/nan.

They are making the sleeping arrangements their parents’ problem – Claire and David are the only ones who didn’t have to change their bedrooms.

This needs a serious conversation including the whole family.

The boys need to have their position of protest acknowledged. But they must acknowledge that through no fault of their own, their Nan is being deeply upset by her childhood memories because of the noise that they make.

Claire and David are frustrated because from their point of view, if everyone (ie the boys) were to do as expected there would be no problem.

The heightened arousal in every family member at bedtime will affect the quality and duration of the sleep they all need.

The family doctor has been consulted and he has offered to prescribe sleeping tablets for Nan so that she won’t be disturbed by this unsolvable problem. Claire is unhappy about this which she sees as a last resort but may worsen her mum’s condition. So no sleeping tablets.

It needs to be recognised that shouting at the boys does not bring about change or a desired result. Once they are set in battle, they become immune to entreaties to stop.

It may help to recognise that the boys have lost the amenity of individual rooms with no quid pro quo, no recompense. What would help them to cope with their situation – can they say

“what it’s worth” to give up the protest. Is their request reasonable, proportionate and fitting from the parents’ point of view.

Can the parents devise a reward system that benefits both boys if they can comply with the demands and expectations? Still teamwork but with a win-win aspect!

I get restless legs in bed at night. It keeps me awake? Is there anything I can do to stop it? It can last for hours and nothing I do helps. I have tried walking about, and drinking tonic water, and I take multivitamins. I even tried acupuncture but that didn’t last and I can’t keep going back every few days. Would hypnosis help? What causes it?

No-one know the exact cause of Restless Legs which can also affect the arms of sufferers. About 1 in 10 people get it at some point in their lives. It is said to be more common in pregnancy and when someone has iron-deficient anaemia. Some theories point to an imbalance of brain chemicals (Dopamine).

Mild symptoms may disappear with small changes – no stimulants or alcohol before bedtime, regular daily exercise, good routines, a warm bath before bed, massage, practising Yoga, doing leg stretching exercises before bed. Smoking tobacco may be a factor too.

For more serious problems with restless legs, a trial of medication to increase dopamine may be recommended by a doctor.

Interestingly, good results have been reported following the use of magnesium oil spray applied to the legs before bed

(available from Holland and Barrett £12.99!). The same effect may be achieved by adding Epsom salts to a nightly bath with a period of soaking in! The magnesium spray has also helped people with pre-sleep anxiety to feel calmer and more relaxed.

My pharmacist suggested using something like Nytol. Could this be habit forming or addictive?

There are different products produced by Nytol, which includes one based on an antihistamine which has a side effect of inducing drowsiness and may be effective for some people with mild initial insomnia. It is not thought to be physically addictive but there is always a possibility of psychological dependence which may not be harmful in itself.

An herbal preparation based on the plant root Valerian has a strong traditional history of helping with sleep disorder and other psychological problems including anxiety, depression and hypochondria or hysteria. It can be taken by mouth or even added to a warm bath.

Valerian may be useful in helping to come off longer term sleeping tablets that are prescription only. It is not associated with physical addiction.

Nytol also produce a “cure” for snoring.

Sleep well John

My daughter Karina is 8 years old. She is a very heavy sleeper. She wets the bed every night and she never wakes up. Is it possible to sleep too deeply?

Bedwetting like this is a form of sleep disorder. The vast majority of children will grow out of it as they mature. Children may develop psychological problems if it is dealt with in a harsh or blaming way and the psychological part may cause the problem to persist through anxiety.

If Karina has never been dry at night then her pattern of bedwetting is possibly genetic (is there someone else in her family who had the same problem as a child?). Some children may have small bladders that empty more often (which includes day-time wetting) but the main problem is that there is a poor connection between the bladder stretching when it is filling and the brain.

It is often the case that deeper sleep periods will coincide with the wetting. This may be because of greater relaxation of the control muscles at the bladder neck (sphincter) in very deep sleep mode.

Some children are “lifted” while asleep to use the toilet as a way of reducing the urine volume without leakage. As an aside, it is interesting that although a child may be fast asleep when being lifted, the body systems involved in passing “wee” are activated when the child’s bottom

is located on the loo seat and the parent says, “Do a wee now … “!

There is a popular treatment approach which includes a form of brain training using a damp-sensitive alarm which is clipped to the child’s underwear. At the first leak of moisture from the bladder, the loud alarm sounds – loud enough to wake everyone else up – except our heavy sleeper! The parents’ task is to get up, take the child to the loo to complete the wee, clean up with fresh pants/sheet and reconnect the alarm. This method does help a good proportion of bedwetting children learn when they need to use the toilet in the night.

One method of using a bed-alarm involves actively supporting this process over three or four nights when the child is given a glass of water each time they are woken by the alarm and taken to the toilet. This intensive brain/bladder training may be helpful for well-motivated children over the age of six years.

Bedwetting is a complex thing to understand and there are several possible causes. Deep sleep and lack of awareness is one possible factor. Small bladder is another.

There is a hormone (anti-diuretic hormone – ADH) that is produced at night which stops the kidneys from producing as much urine and in some children the kidneys keep going at the daytime rate. To help these

children a skin patch or nose drops help to supplement the action of the ADH.

In some children the muscles at the outlet of the bladder are under-developed or inefficient at stopping the flow when necessary. These muscles relax automatically when the brain sends the command through the nervous system to empty the bladder. Some doctors may be willing to prescribe a medication that tightens those muscles to prevent leakages. However, this is a management strategy and not a long-term cure – although it may be useful for sleepovers and school trips to avoid embarrassment. A trial at home would indicate whether this will work for your child, maybe in combination with a patch.

In managing the problem it is best to be matter of fact and to develop a routine way of dealing with the wet clothes and the need to avoid a persistent smell. That smell comes from the action of microbes which turns the urea in urine into ammonia. Using foot powder for athletes’ foot will curb the microbes and keep the child “fresh” in the day.

It is important to note that a child who was previously dry at night but who starts bedwetting may have a significant condition like a bladder infection (cystitis) or even diabetes. Other causes may be related to a source of anxiety which leads to an increase in adrenaline and poor bladder control. Early medical advice is very important in this situation of onset of regular

bedwetting after a period of sustained dry nights. An occasional accident should not be a cause for concern but if a regular pattern occurs along with other symptoms then a visit to the family doctor is necessary..

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