Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep?

by Valerie Coulman

Sleeping Enough?

© Valerie Coulman. This article was originally published in Joy Magazine, February 2006. Reprint rights are available.
This article may not be reprinted without express permission from Valerie Coulman.

From the first day a new baby arrives at home, parents tend to be preoccupied with sleep. How much is our baby sleeping? Are they getting enough? Hasnít she been asleep an awfully long time? When will he go back to sleep?

And though we eventually fall into a family pattern, it remains important to monitor the amount and type of sleep your child is getting. "If youíre chronically deprived of sleep, it affects so many areas," points out area pediatrician Greg Conway. In children, insufficient sleep can cause problems with learning, growth, behavior, relationships or health, including through adulthood.

Recently, there has been an increased interest in the field of pediatric sleep. "Theyíre not little adults," says Geoff Zanotto of Rogue Valley Sleep Center, and special concerns must be addressed in dealing with childhood sleep issues.

Many children begin a pattern of sleep deprivation in their early school years. And as the demands on their time and attention increase, stress also begins to interfere with their ability to sleep well. In the teen years, this can lead to bad moods, stimulant use and worsening sleep problems as teens use the weekend to "catch up" on their sleep. In fact, it is estimated that half of all drowsy-driver accidents involve teens that fall asleep at the wheel.

Though guidelines exist, there is no magic number, though, of hours of sleep that are right for each child. "Kids need varying amounts of sleep," says Conway. Observing your child will be your best clue in deciding whether any changes need to be made to their sleep pattern.

If you suspect a problem, a complete check-up will help rule out any physical complications. Thyroid issues, illness, anemia or depression will take their toll on sleep time. Because children do not identify symptoms like adults are able to, your health care provider may also recommend your child have a sleep study done. "Usually itís a little kid with conglomerative symptoms," points out Zanotto, and a sleep study can be very useful in identifying problems like obstructive sleep apnea or a crowded airway. Some issues can be surgically addressed, or treatment options can be arranged to ensure your child is getting the sleep they need.

Conway also suggests some practical tips for encouraging your child to develop better sleep habits at home.

  1. "Be physically active." Ensuring your child gets enough physical activity during the day will improve their quality of sleep at night.
  2. Stick to a bedtime routine. "[Routine] is extraordinarily important", says Conway. Whether you read a story, take a bath, say prayers, or sing a song, keep the routine as familiar as possible. This includes keeping bedtime and waking times consistent.
  3. Warm milk is a tried and true remedy for encouraging sleep, or older children might benefit from a glass of sleepy-time tea. Avoid caffeine, chocolate or other stimulants late in the day.
  4. White noise, like a fan, can block distracting noises in other parts of the house at bedtime.
  5. For older children and teens, Conway also recommends some relaxation techniques. He particularly recommends "mind games that are boring." Saying the alphabet backwards, listing presidents or other rote recitations will keep their mind off stresses of the day.
  6. And as a last resort, there are over the counter remedies that can be useful for a short time while a relaxation pattern is established.

With proper sleep, your child should fall asleep easily, wake readily at the right time, and meet the day with sufficient energy to reach their full potential.

Copyright © 2006 – 2016 Valerie Coulman. All Rights Reserved.
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