Bedtime techniques for problem sleepers

If your toddler's finding it hard to fall asleep alone, you need to establish a bedtime routine. Here are a few methods to try out.

The no-cry sleep plan

If your child wakes and cries a lot during the night, try this. It's also known as the 'kiss and retreat' program and was devised by child psychologist Dr Olwen Wilson for babies over six months old. It doesn't involve leaving your child to cry, and should improve her sleep within a week — or even less.

Cheerfully go through your usual goodnight rituals, then kiss your child and promise to come back again in minute for another kiss.

Don't leave the room; back off for just a few seconds, staying within her field of vision, then come back and give her another kiss.

Move a little further away and then go back and give her another kiss, then even further, and return for yet another.

Next, occupy yourself in her room — for example, by tidying up a bit. Go back and give her another kiss.

Then try leaving the room for just a few seconds before returning and giving your child a kiss, and keep going out of the room for a slightly longer period each time, until your child is asleep. You may find you lose count of how many times you do this, but persevere.

If your child cries, go in immediately, settle her, and resume the program.

Things should improve by the third night, but be warned that the fifth night can be very hard. You may feel as though you are back at square one before things settle down again.

The checking routine

This method of getting your child used to sleeping alone can work in as little as a week if you keep to it. It will be tiring, so it's better to choose a particular week to start so you can feel prepared, rather than beginning straightaway.

Tell your child it is time for sleep, that you are going to leave the room, but you won't be far away. Then go. Even a young baby will understand what you mean by your tone and actions.

If she cries, wait five minutes then return. Don't pick her up or take her out of the room. Don't turn on any lights, play with her or reassure her.

Stroke her hand or face until she is calm, then repeat the message and leave the room.

If she still cries, leave it a little longer, say 10 minutes, before returning. Continue the pattern until she falls asleep.

The gradual retreat method

This method works best if you are a mum who usually cuddles your child in bed or stays with her until she falls asleep.

Sit by her cot or bed, holding her hand until she falls asleep. Continue to do this for a week.

For the next week, sit by her cot or bed without holding her hand, until she falls asleep.

The following week, sit at the end of the cot or bed until she falls asleep.

Continue to move away from the cot or bed in small stages, a week at a time, until you reach the door. Sit at the open door for a week. By now she should be able to sleep without you being there in the room.

If you stop

Whatever sleep program you choose, be prepared for it to be quite exhausting. If your baby becomes ill, you may need to stop. If for any reason you do stop the program, don't worry. Start it again when you feel ready, and you'll find it works quicker than before.

Do you have any tips on getting a toddler to sleep? Share them below.