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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 18:35 GMT
More parents get sleepless nights
By Alison Holt
BBC Social Affairs Correspondent

Connor Walton
Connor Walton doesn't sleep easily
More and more parents across the UK are suffering exhaustion from broken nights, because of problems with their child's sleep.

Health visitors say the problem is increasing - and is the most common issue with which parents need help.

Experts say this can lead to parental break-ups, as tired, irritable parents fail to communicate.

Domestic violence is also a result of chronic sleep problems, as one partner snaps and takes frustrations out on the other.

The Six O Clock news team questioned 179 health visitors from across the UK.

Two-thirds of health visitors said they believe they are seeing more children with sleep problems than they did five years ago, and a similar number said sleep is the subject that parents ask advice on most often

Restless son

Andrea Walton hasn't had a full night's sleep in 19 months. Her son Connor has slept through the night only once in his whole life. She's exhausted.

"It's just wearisome. You just think, oh for God's sake, just give me a nights peace," she said.

Her husband Andy, is also feeling the strain. Like thousands of parents across the country, lack of sleep is putting a strain on his relationship and difficulties at work.

He said: "You get to the point when you start snapping and getting agitated, angry, so then me and Andrea will start arguing."

Tired and in despair, they are not alone.

Health visitor Pauline McLaughlin has pioneered the sleep clinic method throughout the UK.

She started running groups over ten years ago, and uses a group work method to show parents the way to a decent nights sleep.

She sees many couples like Andrea and Andy, and says that when parents are busy, often with both working, it is difficult to get children into good habits.


Using the television as a babysitter is common, she says, which leads to children being unable to settle themselves when they wake up in the night.

Walton family
A new regime has had some success
"I do think there is an increase in sleep problems amongst children Instead of getting the child into a definite bedtime routine, the children are often allowed to fall asleep in front of the television, which then causes problems with their sleep pattern."

The Waltons are a typical family attending Pauline's three week programme.

Connor is a happy, bright toddler, who is inquisitive and constantly learning. The problem is, he's a little too active.

He rarely sleeps more than two to three hours at a time. He also climbs out of bed and comes to get his mum or dad out of bed. Andrea and Andy feel helpless, and are desperate for help.

Health visitor Pauline is confident that with willpower and determination, they'll be able to get Connor to sleep, and finally reach the point where they can wake up once per night - in the morning.

We gave the couple a camera to record their experiences, and keep a video diary.

We see an exhausted Andrea as she gets up four times in the course of just one night.

However, slowly they make progress. Connor doesn't always want to settle, but after three weeks of a regular bedtime routine he now sleeps through about one night in three.

"I think he has become a bit more loving," said his mother. "He knows in the morning we are pleased with him when he comes in, as opposed to being grumpy because we are tired."

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