Everyone needs sleep; our bodies require it to survive. Following a sleep routine when your children are young can help your entire family develop healthy sleeping habits. Sounds simple enough, but parents with young children know that a child who doesn’t sleep well can turn a family’s life into a bad dream. Not enough sleep can result in daytime sleepiness, irritability, frustration, attention problems, and difficulty controlling impulses and emotions. Children who don’t get enough sleep may not appear sleepy, but instead seem to be hyperactive or disobedient.
SLEEP PROBLEMS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
A parent’s natural instinct is to comfort young children when they can’t fall asleep. However, making a habit of feeding, rocking, holding or lying in the bed with your son can create problems. He may learn to associate falling asleep with these activities and will be unable to sleep without them. In addition, everyone wakes up briefly several times each night. Most people aren’t even aware of it and return to sleep quickly. However, a young child who associates sleep with the habits mentioned above, will not be able to fall asleep again until that same activity occurs. This is known as sleep-onset association disorder. To prevent this in an infant, always put your baby to bed drowsy, but awake; in a toddler, help him not to associate falling asleep with your presence. Since your son probably will cry until he learns to fall asleep without you, try gradually increasing the time before responding to him and decreasing the time you are in his room. Also, make sure he has his security friend or object if he takes one to bed. If you must enter your daughter’s room, do not turn on the lights or remove her from bed unless it’s necessary for her safety or comfort. By following these guidelines, children will usually learn to fall asleep by themselves within a week.
Older children may have trouble sleeping because of fear. If you lie down with your child at naps and bedtime, now is the time to teach her to fall asleep on her own. Begin by sitting on a chair near the bed until she falls asleep. After several nights, move closer to the door. Eventually move the chair out of the room. Leave the door open if she doesn’t get out of bed, but close it if she does. This process can take one to three weeks to learn. Use rewards, such as star charts or small prizes and lots of verbal praise, to speed the process. Be consistent – by letting your child backslide just once, she may think she can get away with it again.
Sleep problems tend to occur at predictable ages. Infants less than 3 months old normally wake and sleep for short periods throughout the day and night, including waking for feedings. Sleep-onset association disorder also occurs in older infants and toddlers, causing frequent waking and feeding at night. Delaying bedtime by needing to use the bathroom or wanting a drink can occur in children over 2 years into the early school-age years. Sleep terrors, fear of the dark or nightmares often begin in children ages 2 to 4. Sleepwalking usually begins in children over 6. Teenagers often have a sleep problem called delayed phase sleep disorder, which causes trouble falling asleep before midnight and difficulty being fully awake until after 9 or 10 a.m. This problem is made worse by high schools having early start times. Other sleep problems in teens are caused by caffeine, nicotine or illegal drug use, psychiatric disorders, such as depression, or medical conditions like narcolepsy or insomnia.
Most common sleep problems can be corrected with a little guidance and some common sense. Signs that your child may have a sleep problem include:
CONSEQUENCES OF LACK OF SLEEP
Lack of sleep affects both children and adults. People who get less sleep than they need, even if it’s only an hour less, develop sleep debt, which can interfere with daily routines and activities. Even when you don’t feel sleepy, sleep debt can negatively affect how you function throughout the day. It can cause you to fall asleep at dangerous times, like when driving. Sleepiness can increase the risk of accidents and injuries in both children and adults. Lack of sleep also can impact how your child performs in school or sports and can contribute to gaining weight. Studies indicate that people who chronically don’t get enough sleep tend to die sooner than those who sleep normally.
HOW MUCH SLEEP IS ENOUGH?
While the development of the brain plays a role in establishing sleep-wake cycles and how much sleep a person needs, learning and conditioning also have an effect. This is good news for parents, who can help their children develop healthy sleep habits. When establishing sleep routines, keep the following in mind:
HEALTHY SLEEP TIPS FOR CHILDREN
It’s much easier to prevent a sleep problem than to treat one, so here are some tips to help your child establish life-long patterns of good sleep:
If you’ve made every effort to help your child with his sleep problems and have not found a solution, seek the advice of your pediatrician or contact the Akron Children’s Hospital Sleep Center at 330-543-8318.
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