5 Sleep Problems in Children, and How to Fix Them

Tired Teenager With Tablet“The city that never sleeps” should not be your home. But everyone did warn you. Last week’s blog–Why Does My Baby Not Sleep Longerwas about normal sleep; this week’s is about some of the problems that you may encounter trying to achieve that.

Not Getting Enough  Sleep?

If children are not getting enough sleep, they will not wake up by themselves in the morning, they will be sleepy during the day, and they may be moody and irritable. Kids who do not get enough sleep are not as able to control their emotions.

Chronically sleep deprived kids may have behavior problems that mimic attention problems. They can be emotionally labile. They injure themselves more often because they can be clumsy. Their grades fall because they are sleepy in class. They gain weight because their metabolism is confused.

If your child is showing symptoms of inadequate sleep, move their bedtime back until the symptoms go away. You cannot make them fall asleep, of course, but you can insist that they rest quietly in a darkened, cool room. No TV! Boredom will put them out in the end, and their systems will adjust to the new routine after a couple of weeks.

Infants

Trouble getting an infant to sleep? The bedtime routines described in last weeks blog will help, but also:

If a baby is waking up frequently at night, sometimes they sleep better if you can squeeze in one more feeding per day. Usually you can convince them to eat more often in the morning. Starting them on solid food early doesn’t help, no matter what Grandma said.

They will also sleep better if they are more awake during the day: play with them, keep them moving, and keep the light level up.

Media

Media does have an affect on sleep. Violent shows and games do keep kids up at night, and anything on a screen will affect their sleep within an hour or two of bedtime. If you like your rest, don’t let your kids engage with violent media or watch shows that scare them. Turn the screens off an hour or so before bed. Never put a TV in their bedroom. If you already have one in there, take it out. You need to be able to monitor what they watch anyway.

Get Physical

Diet matters, yet again. If you want your kids to sleep, don’t give them caffeine. It keeps people awake (you knew that, didn’t you?). Caffeine is in most sodas and tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate.

Also avoid heavy, high fat or high sugar foods near bedtime.

Make sure your child gets at least twenty minutes of high heart rate and heavy breathing exercise every day. Run, play ball, jump rope – whatever they like. Keep it going for twenty minutes after they start breathing heavily. It will clean out the stress chemicals in their blood stream. Don’t get the exercise right before bed, however. It will wake them up (I know, you knew that too). If you want to exercise near bedtime make it yoga, or slow relaxing stretches.

Don’t expose your child to cigarette smoke if you want him to sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant. Keep the cigarettes out of the house and car even when he isn’t there. The poisons hang out in fabrics, on the walls and in the air.

There are some medical issues that can interfere with a child’s breathing during sleep, when their airway relaxes. Large adenoids, large tonsils and morbid obesity will block the flow of air into their lungs and they will wake up just enough to breathe over and over again through the night. They might snore, they will usually be tired during the day, or they might have behavioral issues. If your child shows signs of obstructed breathing, bring it up with your doctor.

Separation and Change

Separation anxiety can also keep a child awake. If your little guys suffer from this, leave the door cracked so they can hear you. Check on them every ten minutes or so until they fall asleep. Give them their comfort objects. It will pass.

Children will also have poor sleep when there are changes in their lives. If they have been ill and the routine changed while they were sick, it will take some effort to get it back. After a move, death, or divorce an established routine will save you. Stick to it and your child will feel more secure and safe, and may actually get some sleep.

Inheritable Stuff

Night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking and bedwetting are all genetic and inheritable. Most are more common in boys than girls. They generally occur when the child is sleeping deeply, more commonly early in the night. They grow out of these problems in the end, and nothing but time will cure them.

Night terrors are different than nightmares. When a child wakes from a nightmare he generally has been in a lighter sleep, usually later toward the morning. He wakes up and can remember the nightmare. He can be comforted.

A child in a night terror is still very deeply asleep. Their eyes may be open but they are not awake and they are not seeing what is actually there. Where you are standing they could be seeing the monster in their dream. Night terrors can last from ten to thirty minutes, and can occur for up to twelve years. They tend to occur when the child is overtired and sleeps very deeply. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause night terrors – unless it causes the child to be overtired.

You cannot comfort a child during a night terror because they are asleep. Speaking calmly seems to help, but don’t be surprised if they don’t want to be held. Watch them, keep them safe and wait it out. They will not remember it at all. There is no quick fix and there are no medicines that help, only the passage of time.

In The End

Children need to get enough sleep or they can have physical, behavioral or emotional problems. Avoid things – like high sugar foods, caffeine and violent television – that make sleep less likely, especially right before bed. Encourage exercise. Establish a relaxing routine that you can stick to every night, with quiet low light activity and comfort; keep a regular bedtime and enforce it. Having a bedtime routine will save you many arguments and will help your child feel more secure in times of upheaval. Sadly, you cannot make a child sleep, but you can insist that he or she rest in a darkened, boring, TV-less room. They will, in the end, get the sleep they need.

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