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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 18:58 GMT
When baby won't sleep
Holly Muirhead
Holly Muirhead kept her mother Alison awake
Sleepless nights are the bane of every new parent's life. But in some cases the nightmare drags on for years, not months. Jane Elliott spoke to one mother about her battle for sleep.

For two years Holly Muirhead kept her parents awake.

Refusing to sleep in her own bed, crying and staying awake, she was not an easy child.

Her mother Alison didn't have a life of her own. Holly needed constant attention at night and the one time her mother did try leaving her with a baby sitter she cried so much she made herself sick.

Helpful tips
0-6 weeks:
Ensure the baby gets enough milk especially during the day
Encourage the difference between awake and asleep
Encourage the difference between day and night
6 weeks to 4 months:
Try to encourage the baby to sleep without comforters such as feeding or rocking
Establish a bedtime routine
4-6 months:
Have a consistent daytime routine
Avoid napping after 3pm
6-12 months:
Babies this age do not normally need night feeds
The toll on Mrs Muirhead's health grew. At times she suffered severe sleep deprivation, she gave up her job in the City and devoted herself to trying to break the vicious cycle of sleepless nights.

Holly ruled the roost and her sleeping patterns looked set to ensure she remained an only child.

Taking a toll

Her mother said: "She wouldn't sleep without someone in the bed. She always had her own bed or a cot. But she would wake up every night anything from once or twice to three or four times a night.

"It got so bad at times that we went through phases of sleep deprivation.

"I never went back to work because when I should have done there was no way I felt I could because I was so tired. I didn't feel I could get up in the mornings.

"We never had any evenings to ourselves. She could go to bed one minute and then be up in an hour saying, 'Where are you?'

"I couldn't go out in the evenings because I couldn't leave her. "

Holly insisted on still being breast fed at night making it even more difficult for her mother to break free.

"By the age of one I thought was this ever going to stop."


After doing some research she found a sleep clinic run by two former health visitors and soon Holly was sleeping through the night.

Mandy Gurney and Tracey Marshall used to run their London-based sleep clinics through the NHS, but now they have their own private clinic, Millpond.

One of a number of dedicated sleep clinics around the country, some run on the NHS, they help parents break the poor sleep cycle by retraining parents and children into better sleeping patterns.

After an initial consultation with parents, they study a detailed sleep diary before suggesting a new routine to train the child to sleep.

This is followed up by monitoring and support for parents.

Ms Gurney said some parents become desperate after years and years of broken sleep. Their health becomes vulnerable with some developing skin problems and nervous tics due to lack of sleep.


General tips
Keep a regular bedtime and be consistent with the routine
Avoid stimulating the baby before sleep
Avoid prolonged daytime naps
Avoid stimulating food before sleep
Let the baby fall asleep without you being in the room
Keep room temperatures comfortable
Keep environmental noise to a minimum
Others become forgetful and one woman told the BBC how she'd had a number of small kitchen fires because her brain was so fuddled with lack of sleep that she often forgot to switch the oven off. Another said she had not had an unbroken sleep for five years.

But Ms Gurney said many problems can be quickly solved, others take a few weeks.

She decided to start working on sleep problems after problems with her own child.

Despite being a health visitor she found nowhere to get advice and decided to set up a sleep clinic.

"Some babies do sleep through the night very early on, but others can take longer.

"The older the child we see the longer it often takes to solve their problems, but some of the small babies can be sorted very quickly."

Key pointers like ensuring the child is put to sleep while still awake and making sure you do not always rock your baby to sleep, or staying in the room while she is sleeping, teach the child independence and means that when they wake up in the middle of the night they are able to go back to sleep alone.

Within three days of visiting the sleep clinic Mrs Muirhead had Holly's problems cracked.

She said that things have improved so much that she is now pregnant again and expecting her second child within the next few weeks.

But she is determined that this time the new baby will be in a sleep routine from day one.

See also:

13 Mar 01 | Health
Sleepless nights lay new mums low
27 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Babies soothed by womb music
18 May 00 | Health
Diary of a new mother
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