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Silent Nights: Overcoming Sleep Problems in Babies and Children. By Symon B. (Pp 200, paperback; £8.99.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0 19550 607 3
Isn't it an often voiced fantasy that young babies should come complete with a “user's manual”? Look no further—one has been produced. It might have to be purchased from the bookshop rather than collected from the delivery room, but that in no-way reduces its appeal.
Silent nights is a highly readable, and often amusing, account of normal sleep (and early feeding) patterns in babies and children, some of the problems that can arise, and how to prevent them from occurring and resolve established problems. The information is clearly based on the author's considerable professional and personal experience.
The content of the advice offered is not greatly dissimilar to other parent manuals that deal with infant sleep problems from an essentially behavioural perspective. There are a handful of such books that cover sleep problems and their treatment, from birth to adolescence.Silent nights concentrates primarily on sleeplessness and a limited range of treatment or preventive measures. Its originality is that it focuses on the sleep patterns of babies and young children (although older children are mentioned) and the very specific problems that their parents will have to face. These range from the exhausting and disruptive round of relatives visiting to admire the baby, to sexuality being a “casualty of parenthood”. As such, it deals with the wider family context, which might be why parents reading this book, as opposed to other parent manuals, will be less likely to feel they have done something “wrong”, and more likely to view any difficulties as understandable and treatable events that they have the power to correct. This instilling of confidence in parents is an important determinant of the success of any intervention or preventive measure. Therefore, although the book is intended for parents, professionals may appreciate and benefit from it.
Minor criticisms relate to the rather cursory treatment of circadian rhythms and no mention of other common paediatric sleep disorders (such as rhythmic movement disorders). Such omissions may be inevitable, given that other aspects of sleep and sleeplessness are given a thorough treatment. Idiosyncratic use of the term “night terrors” and an unhelpfully simplistic diagnostic table in the appendix are potentially misleading.
The author acknowledges that the book offers his opinions, rather than the results of empirical studies. Overall, the information offered is clear and authoritative and the style of the book evokes feelings of receiving advice from a wise friend rather than delivery of a set of prescriptive “do's and don'ts” from a remote expert. Because of this narrative style, it is less easy to find precise pages of particular interest and to quickly identify and extract key action points. However, by assimilating the book in its entirety parents should have a greater understanding of their children's sleep in relation to overall development and family functioning.
How many new parents have concerns about their children's sleeping, eating or crying? The answer to that question should provide some indication of the number of people to whom this book would be of interest.