Many parents put their children to bed and think they will peacefully drift off to sleep within minutes. Unfortunately, it is often not that easy. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 70% of children ten and younger are suffering with some type of sleep problem. Here are some common reasons children do not get enough sleep and tips to ensure a good night’s rest.
Lack of sleep is much more serious of a problem than most parents realize. Studies indicate that it causes more than just grogginess and grumpiness. Sleep-deprived kids are more prone to depression, illnesses, and physical accidents. Lack of sleep also causes considerable memory and concentration problems. Behavioral concerns, including whining and short tempers, also rise. Unfortunately, even the frenzied energy and lack of focus in tired children is often mistaken for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
However, sleep problems are easily preventable and treatable, according to the experts. Here are some common roadblocks for children getting restful sleep and enough of it.
Although after-school extra-curriculars are great for socialization, commitment and teamwork, they can often be too much for children. In 1981, children had almost two more hours of unstructured time than children today. And, kids today spend twice as much time in structured sports than 25 years ago. The old-fashioned running, jumping, and playing that helps kids sleep with reduced stress levels has dropped by more than half.
TOO MUCH TECHNOLOGY
On average, kids are in front of the television or computer, playing video games or listening to music for almost seven hours each day- the same amount of time they spend in school. Research shows that the more screens kids have in their rooms, the more likely they are to be a victim of too little sleep. Considering 38% of preschoolers and 68% of school-age kids have TVs, there is cause for concern. Many parents are not aware that children wake up in the middle of the night and watch TV if it is in their room.
Astoundingly, even one caffeinated drink each day steals half an hour of sleep each night from children. But, caffeine can be found in unlikely places other than soda- teas, chocolate and coffee-flavored ice cream. Several medicines contain substantial amounts as well. Guarana, often found in drinks and protein bars, is an herbal stimulant that can act like caffeine in the body.
Bad dreams usually are triggered by events that scare kids in real life. However, they are good for a child. Dreams allow children to “process and make sense of both real and imaginary fears, which enables them to deal with them better in their waking lives”, says pediatrician Alan Greene. Nightmares and night terrors are common in children during potty training and when they are over-tired.
Some children who have trouble sleeping have physical causes, such as sleep apnea, asthma, allergies, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy. If lifestyle changes don’t solve your child’s sleeplessness within a month, see your pediatrician.
Here are some suggestions on how to solve the common problems above:
1. Tell your child that he or she may choose one sport and one activity. Allow them to pick which they prefer, but limit their schedule to school and two other commitments.
2. Make your child’s room a media-free zone. If there is already a TV or computer, move it to a common area of the home. Allow the child to choose where he or she wants to put it, and allow him or her to put some of their own decorations with it.
3. Check the active and inactive ingredients in medicines, foods, and drinks. Choose guarana and caffeine-free products.
4. After a nightmare, comfort and put them back to bed. Provide an opportunity the next day to draw pictures or tell stories about the dream to work through the feelings and issues.
5. Do not allow your child to become overweight. The number of cases of sleep apnea has risen 436% in the last 20 years, mainly due to the tripling of overweight children.
Keeping children well-rested is extremely important and helpful for you and your kids. This will mean less problems with school performance, emotional outbursts and problem behaviors. Setting a bed and wake time that stays the same every day is helpful. Giving kids an extra 30 minutes to prepare for light’s out is also effective. In the end, discovering what will work for you and your family is the most important. Sleep is, after all, what makes us ready for a new day.
* Some information obtained from the Jan 2007 issue of Redbook.