PRP033 Child Sleep: The 3 main causes of child sleep problems in 10 minutes

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 (superficially – 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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  1. When you become a parent the main problem is SLEEPING. I really do think that teaching babies to fall asleep on their own is life changing! Whatever method a parent can stick to and what works for their baby is the right one to use! I can recommend the method from “How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone guide” by Susan Urban ( ). The method is easy and fast.
    I sleep trained my 3 kids with this guide. After a few days they were able to fall sleep on their own (before only rocking), they stopped waking up every hour to eat at night and they started to nap longer (before training they both slept like 15 minutes and that was it – they were exhausted all day). So the method seems to works on anything related to sleeping. I’ve also recommended the guide to all my friends with kids- always success in a few days so now I know for sure that the method works great and I can share it with other parents.
    So I encourage all parents to first of all try Susan Urban’s method and follow her instructions and I bet any other method especially with CIO won’t be necessary.

    • Thanks Carol. I’m dubious that any one approach will fix all sleep issues. This guide looks like it would work well when sleep issues are caused by inability to fall asleep alone (habitual), and may help somewhat with emotional causes too, but it would not address physical causes. It takes a similar approach to the Sensible Sleep Solution, but does simplify it into a clear step by step program. I like that the author respects the 4th trimester, and her approach is likely to work well for many parents. Personally, I would not have outsourced the rocking, heartbeat, and hugging during those first three months. I enjoyed them, and I feel having my kids wake up and gaze up at me was really important for our early bonding.

    • A few days ago after reading comments here I got “How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone” guide (it’s an ebook by the way) and I wanted to give you some feedback – the method from the guide has worked very fast and it is quite gentle one. I am very pleased I have tried it. So one more recommendation for this guide from me and my family!

  2. After reading the post now I know why my daughter cannot sleep well, she cried all nights. I will follow your guidance to help her sleep well. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Sleep Options Wizard (for 0-5 year olds)

    Take steps towards solving your child’s behavioural sleep issues now. The Sleep Options Wizard (for 0-5 year olds) specialises in addressing bed-time struggles, night-wakings, extended night wakings, waking too early, and transitioning to a bed or a separate room. Suggestions are tailored to your child’s age, your situation, and your family. Answer the Wizard’s questions about your child’s sleep, and your family preferences, and he will give you suggestions on the spot.