Show Notes: Child Sleep: The 3 main causes of child sleep problems

Child sleep became an obsession for me back in my worst sleep-deprivation days. So I did what most PhD Psychology students would, I researched. Why do babies wake so often? Is it really necessary? When can I expect to get a run of 8 or even 5 hours sleep again? What can I do to speed that process? Then I began interviewing experts. Finally, it began to come together. I was able to cut through what I had learned to discover the 3 main causes of child sleep problems that really seem to underpin it all. Best of all, each of the three causes has fairly clear solutions. The thing is, every solution needs a level of perseverance, and solutions to one cause, do not help with the other two. The outcome: you need to find the cause and choose a fitting solution that you have the energy and will to stick to for at least a week. I built these causes and all the solutions I could find into the Sleep Options Wizard, presented them at local preschools, and now, I am sharing them with you.

SummaryChild Sleep Image

The 3 main causes of sleep issues:

  1. Physical
    1. Biological Sleep Processes (Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Pressure) This is the first place to look!
    2. Medical issues
      1. Not addressed by the Sleep Options Wizard apart from night terrors, nightmares, sleep apnoea (look into this if your child snores), and head banging.
    3. Physical comfort – hunger, heat, wet, itchy.
    4. Solutions: Change timing of sleep, or physical environment (temperature, lighting, clothes) as appropriate. Ask a medical professional for medical issues.
  2. Emotional
    1. Fear, anxiety, excitement…
    2. Common triggers: Separation, processing daily emotions, loss of security, a major change, a recent or anticipated exciting game or event.
    3. Solutions: Start during the day (with empathy, emotion coaching, and the 3 Skills to Teach during the Day for better sleep at Night), then a gentle, gradual bedtime approach bed-time (for example, using the Sensible Sleep Solution), and only then overnight if necessary.
  3. Habitual
    1. Falling asleep habit/association e.g. co-sleeping, rocking to sleep, patting to sleep
      1. These habits are not problems – If you and your child are happy, continue and enjoy.
      2. Only a problem if:
        1. You don’t enjoy it or have time for it.
        2. It causes night wakings where your child wants help back to sleep, and these are not allowing you the quality sleep you need.
    2. Boundary testing – Independent thought, preference, or action is a new skill that 3-5 year olds want to practice over and over (
    3. Solutions: Incorporate reasonable choices during the day and as part of the bedtime routine. Set and communicate clear expectations using Modelling for children 6 months and older (

The Sleep Options Wizard is a guidance tool to help you diagnose the cause (in a bit more depth) and choose a solution. The solutions above are just a few of many gentle approaches.


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