Last Night’s TV – My Child Won’t Sleep


This ITV documentary film brought back some hideous memories for me of sleepless children and the seemingly endless grind of the routine that they bring at a time when you’re at your lowest ebb; when you’re exhausted and living in mortal dread of THAT time… bedtime.

The three families who featured in this film were all, for a variety of reasons, having their lives ruined by the sleeplessness of their child, and while a lack of sleep may not sound devastating to someone who’s never experienced it, as someone who has, my heart went out to those worn out parents…

I recall vividly that when I already had two children under 5 years old, my third baby would only sleep a couple of hours at a time and only then if he was being rocked in his pram. The second the rocking stopped, he woke and screamed his head off. While that was going on, my second child, who was 3 years old, only needed about three hours sleep a night and would constantly demand attention while awake.

If I fell asleep, he would come out of his room and get up to all sorts. I remember the worst time came for me when I’d fallen asleep after about 36 hours of having no sleep, and on going downstairs, I discovered my 4 year old son had destroyed about 100 cassette tapes and was sitting quite happily amid tons of brown tape but worse was that he’d kindly helped his toddler brother to get out of his cot then opened the front door for him. He’d subsequently wandered to the local shop and – thank God – been brought back safely by one of the staff there.

It was her knocking on the door that woke me. I remember just collapsing on the stairs and crying seemingly without end; I was just so exhausted, I felt hopeless, so as I said, my heart really went out to the parents of the children featured last night – but especially the mothers, who always seem to take most of the brunt of it. I didn’t have help from any experts so in the end, to keep everyone safe, I had to put a child-lock on my son’s bedroom door, just to keep him contained where he couldn’t harm himself or put anyone else in danger.

Some of the parents featured were struggling with their own relationships too because of their combined tiredness and frustration, and again, I can totally empathise with how a sleepless child can trash your marriage and other relationships. You don’t have time for each other, romance, yourself, a life in general or friends because you’re too tired and too busy trying to cope.

Three children were featured in the film; there was Megan, who only slept for about three hours a night, Keira, who sleepwalked and Harry who wouldn’t sleep at night but fell asleep several times during the day.

The answers – or at least some help – came in the form of the Solent Sleep Clinic in Southampton where the children’s sleep patterns as well as the parents’ responses to them, were monitored.

For some, the answers seemed pretty obvious such as for Megan, keeping her up later and taking the TV out of her room worked wonders; in six weeks she went from having only three hours sleep to over ten hours a night. And while it may seem these are very obvious solutions, when you’re in a constant state of inattention because of sleep deprivation, the obvious may be far from it to the person suffering, as was the case for Megan’s mum, Rachel.

The experts at the sleep-clinic also solved three year old Keira’s sleepwalking problem by tackling her parents more than her, and specifically telling her dad, Ian, that he needed to be more supportive and consistent in his behaviour with Keira. This in turn helped mum Laura immensely and by the time Keira began sleeping through the night, they had gone from being a couple on the brink of splitting up to a couple ready to work at their marriage, and they finally had the energy to.

Help with dealing with Harry’s problems came from sleep expert Cathy Hill who advised a “firmer attitude” when getting him to bed, a later bedtime and Ritalin to deal with his daytime drowsiness – which was diagnosed as narcolepsy – as well as his behavioural issues at school which had come about because he was tired basically.

He’d been in trouble at school for being disruptive in class and it was deemed by Cathy that this was because he needed to be in a “state of constant agitation” just to stay awake. This took the form of ‘naughtiness’ and bad behaviour, so it was hoped that the Ritalin would address this issue too. And it did apparently, though it didn’t entirely solve the issue of his night time wakefulness, it did seem to rid him of his constant need to doze off in the day.

This was a really informative and interesting film and as I said, for me, it brought back horrible memories but that’s all they are now my kids are adults. The next hurdle these folks will have is getting their kids out of bed when they’re teenagers, so parents, good luck with that!

And fear not, it will all end one day when they get older and begin to be more like people rather than hideous little monsters who’re intent on driving you into an early grave… it may seem a long way off but it’s really not! And when it happens, you’ll rediscover the joy of optional lie-ins but – if you’re like me – you’ll most likely be the one awake, rattling round the silent, sleeping house, just because it’s been habit for donkey’s years!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.