Amount and quality of sleep impacts children in every aspect imaginable. Sleep is crucial for proper growth and development, as well as daily functioning. Sleep is essential for neural development, and even a modest decrease in adequate sleep can decrease cognitive ability. According to The Journal of Developmental and Pediatric Behavior, there is a link between preschoolers who sleep less than 10 hours a day and behavior problems. There is a significant correlation between hyperactive and impulsive behavior and short sleep duration.
I meet many parents that don’t understand the importance of sleep. I have parents bring their kids in to be evaluated for ADHD and one of the first things we discuss is sleep. If a child is having sleep problems, we need to help correct the sleep issues before thinking about ADHD as the problem, it could be sleep deprivation.
Some parents will tell me their child goes to bed when they get tired. REALLY?? I’m thinking this doesn’t usually go over well. This may work on rare occasions when the child goes to bed at a reasonable time and is following the bodies natural sleep signals. Most children have a natural “window” when they will exhibit signs of sleepiness; rubbing eyes, slowing of activity, etc. If the child doesn’t go to bed during this time, they have an adrenaline rush, which keeps them up for a few more hours, and way past their bedtime!
Children should be expected to sleep in their own bed, and have a good bedtime ritual and schedule from a very young age. Good sleep hygiene makes all the difference as children grow and develop into adulthood. Co-sleeping may work for some families, but in my clinical experience, the kids disturb the parents, and the parents disturb the kids. I’m all for early morning cuddling, after everyone has had a good night’s sleep.
Getting an inadequate amount of sleep actually leads to nighttime wakening. For a child that is having trouble sleeping through the night, it is important to make sure the child is actually getting enough sleep. When children are tired, they will actually show signs of hyperactivity and irritability rather than signs of being tired.
Are their medical reasons that a child may not sleep well?? YES!! Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have trouble falling asleep because they have trouble turning their brain off. When it comes to sleep and ADHD, each affects the other… ADHD can interfere with sleep, and sleep can make ADHD worse! Talk about a double edged sword… When Josh was a baby we put him to bed with classical music for the first 2 years of his life, this worked wonders, but he decided he didn’t want it anymore when he was 2. Now, we use a “white noise” machine. If you are worried you child may have ADHD, check out my post Hyperactive or just busy…Could your child have ADHD?
Another medical problem that could interfere with adequate sleep is sleep apnea. Children that have allergies, causing swollen tonsils and adenoids, can have sleep apnea. For allergy info, check out Springtime & Sneezes…You might have allergies if… Children that suffer from obesity are also high-risk for sleep apnea. Obesity can cause many other medical problems that I will address in a future post.
So, what can we do as parents to help our children get adequate sleep??
- A good bedtime routine can help; bath, book, then bed is a common mantra of mine.
- Read before bed, but read books for pleasure, or magazines, things that are of interest to the child. I love going into Joshua’s room at night and finding him asleep on top of his book! 🙂
- Nightlights are helpful for young kids that have fears related to the dark, making it difficult for them to fall asleep.
- NO TVs in the bedroom!! This cannot be emphasized enough, NO TV IN THE BEDROOM!!
- Turn off all screens (TV, computer, ipod, phone texting, etc.) 1 hour before lights out.
- a “white noise” machine, this is my kids favorite! You can get them with different sounds: rain, ocean, rain forest, waterfall, summer night, etc.
A child that doesn’t get enough sleep will be at risk for behavior problems, decreased immune function, increased irritability, inability to play independently, inability to learn from the environment, and interference with proper growth and development. Lack of sleep can also increase a child’s risk for obesity, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It can also affect emotional well-being, performance, productivity, and cognitive ability.
When I tell you about kids and sleep problems, I’m telling you not only from education but from experience. Joshua has had trouble falling asleep since he was a toddler. Does it have anything to do with his ADHD? I’m sure it does. He could be the perfect case study of a child with proper sleep and then without. He can be such a sweet, intelligent, polite, mannerly, inquisitive, interesting, funny guy. With no sleep, he turns into the Tasmanian devil. He is whiny, irritable, fatigued, twirling his hair, and literally twirls in circles. Wow, what a difference sleep can make. I have no doubt that Josh gets his sleep issues from genetics as well, I have problems with sleep sometimes too. My problems are because of a disease called fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia severely impacts one’s sleep. Inadequate sleep makes fibromyalgia worse. Interesting how all of these medical conditions have a reciprocal impact on one’s sleep and one’s health.
Sleep is important for all of us! Make it a priority for your children and it will make your parenting journey a little bit easier…Promise! 😉
Sweet Dreams and don’t forget to Enjoy the Journey!