Getting quality sleep is important for overall health, especially in children and teens. However, most of us fail to get adequate rest. Because children and teens require more sleep than adults, it’s important to pay attention to the quantity and quality of sleep they get each night. If you notice your child or teen has sleep problems, it can be hard to know if they are struggling with depression, anxiety, a sudden change in their environment, or if it’s a sleep disorder.
What is a Sleep Disorder?
Sleep disorders also known as (sleep-wake disorders) are problems with not only the quality of sleep but also the timing and duration of sleep, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association. If you or your child are living with a sleep disorder it can reduce the ability to function, lead to anxiety, depression, pain, among others. A recent study in 2014 estimated that approximately 50% of children experience sleep disorders. The most common sleep disorders found in this study were as follows: obstructive sleep apnea, sleep walking, confusional arousals, sleep terrors, insomnia, delayed sleep and restless leg syndrome.
When a child has a sleep disorder it can have adverse effects on the entire family. Thankfully there are ways to improve your child’s sleep. Sometimes just making small changes to their sleep schedule or environment can help or there are healthcare professionals that can offer support and advice.
Signs Your Child Has a Sleep Disorder
Does your child seem to take a while to settle down before bed? If so, you’re not alone. In general, it takes kids a while to settle down and go to sleep. However, if your child is struggling a lot, night after night, they could have a sleep disorder. There are a few situations that may indicate your child has a possible sleep disorder.
Your child snores loudly, your child complains about their legs itching at night, your child only sleeps about 90 minutes before waking, even during the nighttime. Your child takes hours to fall asleep-constantly asking for another song, drink, book or taking many trips to the bathroom. It’s normal for children to have occasional restless nights where they get poor sleep or wake up from time to time. But if these behaviors persist over the course of several nights, and turn into weeks and even months, this may indicate an underlying problem. Children who are not getting adequate sleep will show the following changes:
- Increase in behavioral problems & become more disruptive
- Decrease in academic performance at school
- Difficulty paying attention or lack focus
- Increase in irritability and moodiness
Consequences of sleep problems
As stated before, sleep is essential for a person’s overall wellness. So, when children and teens don’t get enough sleep, it can start affecting their health. Sleep deprivation over long periods of time can cause many different emotional, physical, and mental changes in children. These changes include:
- Lack of problem-solving skills
- Mood swings
- Excessive sleepiness
- Weak immune system
- Poor memory
- Poor health
- Unable to control emotions
When it comes to younger children, irritability is often a sign they are not getting enough sleep. On the other hand, teenagers who are experiencing sleep deprivation may try to hide negative thoughts or feelings of depression. This is a behavior you will want to watch out for and take care of right away.
Tips to improve your child’s sleep problems
Luckily for parents and caregivers, there are ways to improve the quality of sleep for your child. You can take an active role to improve their sleep by implementing some new changes like:
- Change their mattress or pillow. Make sure they are comfortable at night. If they are constantly tossing and turning, the problem could be what they are sleeping with or on. Their pajamas, pillow, sheets or possibly the mattress could be the culprit for sleepless nights.
- Promote a relaxing environment. At bedtime it is important to create an environment that promotes sleep. Make sure the bedroom is quiet, at a comfortable temperature and dark. If they require a nightlight, make sure it is dim. Also consider having your child take a shower or bath, and read before bed.
- Create a bedtime routine. Having the same routine every night will help their bodies know it’s time for bed. This is called a sleep routine. Whether it’s shower or bath, brushing your teeth, snuggling and reading a book, make sure it’s the same steps every night.
- In both children and teens, encourage conversation. When you ask them about their day and create conversation, it will help them feel a little less restless when it’s time for lights out.
- No electronics at bedtime. It’s important to unplug from electronics at least one hour before bedtime. You don’t want to have any stimulating activities right before bed that may keep them up.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are creating a positive bedtime experience. Consider some type of reward system instead of scolding your child for getting up several times before they fall asleep or not getting up on time. It might be more of a motivation for them to follow bedtime rules.
Talk to your child about their sleep problems
As a parent or child caregiver, it is difficult to know when your child is suffering from a sleep disorder or they are just restless. It is important to talk with your child and find out if they are having any difficulties at school, issues with friends, or if they are experiencing any nightmares or pain while sleeping. Your child also may be experiencing night terrors or sleepwalking and they will most likely not remember it happened.
Sleep is an absolute necessity for all human beings, but especially for little ones who need adequate, good quality sleep to help grow, learn, and function. If you can spot a sleep disorder early and make adjustments, or get advice, therapy, or treatment, you’ll be doing your child a favor that will last a lifetime.
Need more help? Consider reaching out to a sleep professional
When steps to improve their sleep are not helping, you will want to speak with a sleep professional since they could need medical treatment. Not only can they help you create a plan for better sleep, they may be able to diagnose and treat underlying medical issues like sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, restless legs, and more. They may also refer you to an ENT (ear, nose & throat doctor) or allergist. Being proactive and getting help for your child’s sleep problems or sleep disorder will prevent future health problems. Your involvement now could give them a lifetime of benefits.
To find out more about your child’s sleep problems or underlying causes, contact Just Breathe DDS. We treat both the symptoms and causes associated with snoring, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, insomnia and other sleep breathing disorders. Our treatment is a short-term process, generally one year, with results that last a lifetime. For more information regarding our sleep treatment or to set up a free patient education meeting, please give us a call at (208) 500-3030. Get Help for your child’s sleep problems today by calling Just Breathe DDS!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Problem. Accessed July 2017.