by Ehab Mansoor, M.D
Photo by Wade Payne
The story has been read, the last glass of water has been given and your child has finally been tucked into bed. As you leave the room you hope, for your child’s sake and yours, he’ll sleep well through the night. Unfortunately, for many children, this doesn’t normally happen. According to the National Sleep Foundation approximately 70 percent of children age 9 and younger have some type of sleep problem.
Children ages 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep. Not enough sleep can do more than make a child tired and grouchy—it can cause major health problems. Children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to catch colds, have accidents or be depressed. Lack of sleep can also be an underlying cause for more serious issues such as mood swings, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a learning disability or even certain types of heart disease. Even receiving as little as one hour less of sleep a night can cause a child to have memory and concentration problems that can impact a child’s ability to learn.
But the good news is that most sleep issues in children can be prevented and treated. In fact, everyone in the family may benefit from the following tips:
Be active during the day. Physical activity can burn energy and help children feel more relaxed. Regular exercise helps a child fall asleep and stay asleep. Just don’t have your child involved in something too close to bedtime. The best time for exercise is early morning.
Not too many activities. Having your child involved in structured sports or activities can be good for them. However, too many activities after school can delay mealtime, time for homework and bedtime. This may make it difficult for your child to get the required amount of sleep and rest.
Say good night to electronics. Experts recommend using the bedroom for sleep only. If you can’t make your child’s bedroom a technology-free environment, at least shut down everything an hour or more before bedtime. This will avoid your child being wakened by the buzz of a text, the ping of an instant message or the brightly lit screen of a computer or phone.
Keep a sleep routine. Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body expect sleep. Creating a set bedtime routine can enhance this relaxation effect. Also, having your child spend some time reading, listening to music, taking a bath or doing anything else that is relaxing can help him sleep.
Avoid caffeine. In both children and adults, too much caffeine can cause jitteriness, an upset stomach and sleeping problems. It doesn’t take a lot of caffeine, especially in young children, to produce these effects. To prevent these issues, avoid caffeine six to eight hours before bedtime. Remember: caffeine is in coffee, tea, soda and chocolate.
Most children will have a sleepless night once in a while. But, if your child is regularly having trouble sleeping, and you think it’s affecting his mood or performance, talk to your child’s primary care provider or pediatrician. The doctor can arrange for your child to have a sleep study at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, or you can schedule an appointment for an evaluation. For more information, call the Children’s Hospital Sleep Medicine Center at 865-541-8478.
Visit www.etch.com for more information.
Ehab Mansoor, M.D., who is board-certified in pediatrics and sleep medicine, leads the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Sleep Medicine Center, which is the only one in the area to offer pediatric and adolescent sleep disorder expertise. Visit www.etch.com/sleep for more information.