Sleepless in Singapore... no kidding

SINGAPORE - There is hardly any respite for teacher Annette Chan after an eight-hour workday juggling work commitments.

After returning home, she not only has to manage household chores, but also get her two-year-old daughter to go to sleep - a process that can drag on for more than an hour.

"Sometimes I tell my daughter bedtime stories until I fall asleep myself," said the 29-year-old.

"It can be tiring and frustrating, especially when I'm at the end of my rope and she still won't sleep."

Like many other parents here, Ms Chan is not alone in going without any downtime due to their children's poor sleeping habits.

In fact, a poll by lighting solutions provider Philips found that more than a quarter of them take up to an hour just to put their little ones to bed. It is not any easier for two thirds of those polled, who take up to 30 minutes to do so.

The survey, involving over 350 parents here with children between the ages of two and eight, also unearthed the children's top two worst fears - being alone and imaginary monsters in the dark.

"For many children, the dark is often insidious," explained Dr Mahesh Babu Ramamurthy, who heads the Division of Paediatric Pulmonary and Sleep at the National University Hospital.

"There's a fear of the unknown when they can't see anything, and a lot of imagery comes into play, based on whatever they've seen or heard in the day."

He added that some children may also face separation anxiety, where they fear being separated from the main caregiver, or are distracted by electronic devices.

While many parents often turn to patting or rocking their children in order to get them to sleep, Dr Mahesh warned that this could lead to sleep association problems.

"Your child will expect you to do the same thing every single time before they go to sleep, and they won't be confident of sleeping on their own."

Dr Low Kah Tzay, a paediatrician at Anson International Paediatric & Child Development Clinic, was concerned that more than two thirds of the survey respondents said their children do not sleep on their own.

He pointed out that while it is a cultural trait because many Singaporean parents are "overly protective", children would become less independent.

"If the child has already formed a habit sleeping with parents, offer him or her a stuffed toy as a replacement. (Good) habits take time to form and the best time to start is when they are young."

To help children cope with sleeping in the dark, Ms Tammy Fontana, lead therapist of All In The Family Counselling, suggested "having a bit of light" in the room, such as night lights.

"It helps because the children will be able to see their surroundings and get a sense of safety, instead of feeling scared because they are stuck in a dark room," she said.

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