Sleep health in children

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By Karen Johnson, RN, CNP

Getting enough sleep is essential for your child’s growth and health. Studies show that many children don’t get enough sleep each night. This can result in behavioral problems, mood swings and poor school performance. A lack of sleep also can cause problems with memory, concentration and problem solving.

Occasional bouts of sleeplessness or restless nights are normal for kids as their bodies and brains develop, and the tips below can help you ensure your kids are getting enough rest.

But sometimes your child may not be getting enough sleep due to a sleep disorder. One of the most common sleep disorders in children is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Signs of OSA in children are loud snoring, restless sleep, gasping and hyperactivity when awake. Risk factors for having OSA in children are having enlarged tonsils or adenoids, being overweight or certain other genetic or health disorders. Speak with your child’s health care provider if you think that your child might have OSA.

Here are some tips for helping your kids get a good night’s sleep:

Create a soothing and regular routine for sleep: A routine can help your child get ready for bed much easier. Studies show that children who have a bedtime routine wake up fewer times during the night. The bedtime routine should be the same every night, such as reading one book and singing one song, not lasting more than 15 to 20 minutes.

Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time: Keeping the wake time and bedtime the same, even on weekends and vacations, is important to help maintain circadian rhythm.

Be conscious of light and darkness: Both are very influential in sleep-wake cycles. Bright light in the morning is influential in setting the circadian rhythm and helping children wake easier. Opening the curtains in the morning to let in the sunlight is the most powerful source of light; artificial light can be helpful as well. Dim the lights in the evening prior to the bedtime routine to cue your child’s internal clock that it’s time for sleep.

Keep electronics out of the bedroom: The light from televisions, computer screens, video games and mobile devices like cellphones can prevent your child from sleeping. It’s best to turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime, and in their place, do a calming activity such as reading or coloring.

Naps are important: Younger children need regular and predictable naps during the day. When your child is napping only once a day, don’t let him or her nap late into the afternoon, as this will interfere with the child’s ability to fall asleep at the regular bedtime.

Teach your child how to self-soothe: At an early age, put your child into his or her crib or bed when he or she is drowsy but still awake. Teaching kids to fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night without your presence is an important skill for them to learn. Children naturally wake two to six times a night, and if they do not know how to self-soothe, they will cry to alert you that they are awake. Not only does that disrupt their sleep, but yours as well.

No caffeine allowed: Caffeine is not recommended for kids, but if you allow your child any, make sure it is before 3 p.m., as it can delay the onset of sleep at bedtime.

Consistency is key to success: Be patient and persistent, as the investment is well worth it when your child is sleeping better.

Make sleep a priority for your child and family: Teach your child about the importance of sleep by being a good role model in your own sleep habits.

Karen Johnson, RN, PNP, is a nurse in the Children’s Sleep Center at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Her interest in pediatric sleep medicine stems from her passion to assist children in improving their sleep. She views sleep as a necessary function so that children can be alert, focus in school, reach their learning potential and have energy to play and be kids.

The Children’s Sleep Center is one of the only pediatric-centered programs in the region and one of only a handful that is nationally accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.