Sleep is one of our most basic needs, but is especially vital for children
and young adults. Lack of sleep is associated with weight gain and obesity
and cognitive and emotional problems like irritability, inattention, hyperactivity,
depression, mood swings, aggression and impulse control issues. When it
comes to a child’s development, good sleep is extremely important.
Monitoring sleep in children can prove to be a challenge for parents and
caregivers. One of the reasons it is so hard to know when our kids aren’t
getting enough sleep is that drowsy children don't necessarily slow
down the way an adult would. Instead, an over-tired or sleep-deprived
child experiences the opposite. They often wind up, acting as though they
aren’t tired, resisting bedtime and becoming increasingly hyper
as the evening goes on. As a result, sleepiness can often look like symptoms
of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
But, there are a few things parents can do to help their children become
better sleepers and get the rest their growing minds and bodies need:
Establish a structured bedtime routine.
This is critical for children of all ages and a bedtime routine should
include structured, consistent timing for evening activities like dinner,
bath or shower, reading and lights out. While it may be difficult at first
to establish the routine, the long-term effects will far outweigh the
Limit television, video games and all screen time prior to bed.
Exposure to “blue light” can be the most common disruption
to sleep, but luckily, it is the easiest to fix. The American Academy
of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens -- TVs, computers,
laptops, tablets and phones -- out of children's bedrooms, especially
at night. Remove portable devices and power down TVs to prevent any temptation
to turn them back on when kids “can’t fall asleep.”
In fact, all screens should be turned off at least 30 minutes to one hour
before bedtime so the brain can transition from an active state to a resting one.
Encourage calming activities before bed.
Encourage activities that calm and soothe your child as bedtime approaches.
Bedtime stories and reading to or with your child are a great way to spend
time prior to lights out.
Now that your child is asleep, how much sleep do they actually need? The
amount varies depending on age, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
(AASM) and AAP provide some helpful guidelines regarding just how much
sleep children need at different stages in their development.
Above all, make sufficient sleep and good health habits a family priority.
Be a role model for your child by eating healthy, exercising regularly
and establishing a routine bedtime for yourself. Children are acutely
aware of your behavior, so modeling healthy habits and creating an environment
for them to succeed will ensure everyone in the family is well rested
and functioning at their highest level.
If your child is still having trouble sleeping after establishing a
strict bedtime routine or displays snoring or loud, heavy breathing, it
may be a sign of a medical condition and should be brought to the attention
of your child’s medical provider.
Dr. Ellen Davis is a Pediatrician with CaroMont Pediatric Partners in Gastonia,
is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is currently
accepting new patients.
Visit our website to learn more.