The Sleep Thieves - Physical Thieves of Sleep

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 Sleep Thieves - The Physical Thieves Of Sleep 





Sound little sleepers rarely happen by accident and in my years as a mum and night nanny i have noticed that parents of little ones who sleep well and have predictable sleep habits seem to know these 3 things. Wether they realise it or not i have found parents of sound sleepers undertsand that 

  1. To understand that the ability to sleep through the night independently is a skill to be nurtured.  And skills take practise to master.

  2. How your little one sleeps is a mixture of their nature and nurture. You can influence how they sleep with associations habits & routine in line with their unique personality/temperament.

  3. There are reasons that little ones will struggle with sleep at times no matter how tired they are.


Today I wanna focus on point number 3 as that's how I usually work with mums who needing support.

If your baby is not sleeping so well or their sleep is unpredictable there is always a reason. I focus on finding that reason,which as you can imagine is not  always easy. There are a tonne of reasons why a may  baby or toddler struggle with sleeping

That reason or reasons  why your baby isn't sleeping usually falls into one of 4 categories.

I call these categories of reasons  The  Thieves of Sleep because they steal your babies ability to easily fall asleep.

The Thieves of sleep are just reasons why a little one will struggle to sleep divided into 4 different categories to help parents easily identify why their little ones may be finding sleep a challenge.

 Today I'm going to focus on the one of the  4 Thieves (class/category of reasons for sleep struggles) which are Physical. Physical Sleep thieves Pinterest

The physical reasons (the physical sleep thieves stealing your sleep)  your little one is potentially struggling to sleep could be: 

  • Diet or hunger
  • Overtiredness
  • Pain or illness


It's a given that babies and toddlers can wake up overnight due to hunger. Completely normal and natural too. I'm a greedy so and so and i love my sleep but I cannot nod off at all if I'm hungry I have to eat first.

Many times how ever when little ones wake overnight as younger babies we feed them and they usually fall right back to sleep. As babies get older it's thought and often assumed that babies don't need feeds overnight, particularly after 6 months of age or when mums beginning weaning onto solids. Sometimes babies and toddlers up to two years old still wake overnight for milk because they are genuinely hungry. But what if those night feeds become frequent. 

Say you have an 10 month old waking overnight for 3 or 4 feeds is that hunger?  or is there another possible reason for the night waking. 

It could be hunger or perhaps that 10 month old is waking for other reasons. A good way of figuring out the possible cause of the waking for night feeds is looking at milk  & food intake during the day. 

Perhaps that 10 month old has so much milk overnight he’s not that hungry for milk during the day and is happy with just his solids. Little ones who sleep well overnight without feeds tend to feed very regularly throughout the day.

It's a great idea to find out how much milk your little one should have in a 24 hour period and make sure they have the majority of the total amount of milk they need between 7am & 11pm. (Learn about formula milk amounts and how to calculate your baby’s intake here)

If you suspect hunger is the reason your baby is waking up overnight, look at your journal or log to familiarise yourself with how much milk your baby is having and when.  Ask yourself questions.

How much formula has your baby had during the day in total? How many times did you breastfeed throughout the day? How many times did you breastfeed throughout the night?

If they are feeding a lot overnight you may want to offer more feeds throughout the day. 

(Can you see how journaling is going to come in handy now ? ) 

Your Little One's Diet 

Sugar is often linked to hyperactivity in children and most definitely impacts sleep so be aware of your little ones sugar intake. The hidden sugars in foods are often missed so again check food labels. even food designed for children can have alarming levels of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  If your little one has a sweet tooth thermos sugar intake could be affecting their ability to wind down

Also be aware of ingredients in the foods your little one eats

Caffeine, Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial colours and preservatives (E numbers) are often linked with sleep problems. and also sugar consumption can play a role in sleep difficulties in toddlers

Removing these commonly called E numbers from your little one’s diet can sometimes reduce night wakings and sleep disturbances in toddlers and older babies

Keep an eye on food labels & look out for e numbers.

This applies to breastfeeding mums too, if you can't find a cause your little ones sleep struggles have a look at your diet.

Are you drinking excess tea or coffee or foods with additives. Chocolate  too (sorry) It's a possibility you shouldn't rule out completely. 


Overtiredness is a common reason for fighting sleep many parents are led to believe that the more tired a little one is the easier it will be for them to just fall asleep but then are puzzled as to why their little ones don’t nod off as easily as we would expect, they are tired after all right? 

Little ones get tired quite easily throughout the day, the younger they are the more quickly they tire and need a nap, this period of time in which they can be alert and happy for before they may need a nap I refer to as and awake window, as this period of time or awake window comes to an end your little one will start to indicate or cue that they may be starting to get tired.

Sometimes the early sleep cues a baby will display are so very subtle, they're misunderstood or missed altogether. They then become overtired. An overtired little one can find it really really difficult for to a) fall asleep & b) stay asleep

Learn more about early sleep cues here  

For a chart with approx awake windows according to age click here 

The reason for that is because your baby's brain releases hormones when they become overtired to help them continue to cope with being awake longer then they really should. These hormones are Cortisol along with other hormones like adrenaline. These hormones act almost like coffee. Keeping them awake, however as we know when we're tired coffee keeps us awake but it doesn't stop the tiredness.

Meaning: you have a baby that is perhaps more grouchy or sensitive than perhaps they would be if they weren't tired. In a manner of speaking they are sleep deprived and we all know that's no fun.

The annoying thing about this hormone release is that a it has a cumulative effect in that the more tired your baby becomes the more difficult they find to sleep in the moment and later in the day too. This is also including at night and contributes to frequent night waking and early risings.

So how can you tell if you have an overtired little one?  And what can you do about it?

Refer  back to your log or journal & ask yourself questions. look at  how much sleep your little one had over night? How much sleep have they had in total during the day? can you recognise their early sleep signals before more obvious cues like crying? Do you know how long your little ones awake window is?

If you think that perhaps your little one is overtired, as soon as you see your little one is tired get them down for a nap or sleep. The only real cure for overtiredness is getting sleep.

Learn more about tackling overtiredness here 

Having your journal or log of information can help you easily answer the questions you maybe asking yourself over the coming days as I share more about sleep. The more you  record & make note of the  easier it will be to see if your little ones sleep struggles or sleep thief stealing their sleep is physical or otherwise

Are there any patterns as yet? Can you see where you could make adjustments?

Pain & Illness

As you can imagine when a little one is unwell or experiencing discomfort. Sleep is going to go on the back burner. Whilst adequate sleep is important to aid recovery and recuperation. Caring for and managing pain and illness is paramount.

Do not attempt any kind of sleep shaping or training if you believe your baby is unwell  in any way or in pain.

Your priority will be to make them as comfortable as possible and seek help of healthcare professionals..

The best thing you can  support them in helping them to feel comfortable and safe. If they need your help to get to sleep or to sleep comfortably then do all that you can to accommodate that.

Expect them to struggle with sleep especially if they’re suffering/recovering from coughs colds or fevers. There’s not much else you can do other then keep them cool and hydrated till illness passes.

Conditions:Reflux, Cow milk protein allergies or intolerances

Again it’s about helping your little one feel comfortable.

If you suspect your little one suffering with any intolerances or allergies see your GP as soon as possible

???????? Top Tip ????????

If you suspect your little one is unwell but your GP fobs you off. (Like mine used to on occasion)

Use your smartphone ????????to film or take pictures of symptoms or behaviour at home and then show your GP.

They'll take you seriously when you have camera evidence of symptoms your baby experiences at home (which almost NEVER present when your at the doctors Ugh???? )!!

Discuss management with your doctor and ask about medication and possible side effects before hand so you can be prepared.

For little ones suffering with reflux:

Keeping the baby elevated really helps. Cocoon-a-baby  or mattress wedges can help you keep your baby more safely elevated angle to thay can sleep more comfortably.

Working in partnership with your GP health visitor or healthcare professionals is important in order to help manage your little ones symptoms or conditions. Only when you have illnesses or conditions properly managed should you consider sleep shaping or training.

So onto the second category of sleep thievery…..

If your aren't a member already join us over on Facebook here if you have any questions regarding the above or you want some help with your journal/observations during the why challenge post on the group wall.