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Sleep tips from Children’s Sleep Center

by Karen Johnson, APRN CNP

Parents know good sleep is essential for healthy growth and functioning. Parents also know that good sleep can be hard to come by.

Families seek out the Children’s Sleep Center for our experience in treating rare and common sleep disorders in infants, children and adolescents. At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we specialize in identifying and treating the full gamut of sleep challenges, ranging from difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or with breathing during sleep, to difficulties waking up and staying awake.



Sleep tips for all children

Random bedtimes breed bad behaviors in kids

Many parents have learned the hard way that late bedtimes make for cranky kids the next day. In one study, children who went to bed after 9 p.m. were rated as having more behavior problems. During the day, later bedtimes affected the child’s school performance. Irregular bedtimes cause worse behaviors than short amounts of sleep. Behavioral problems improve when children have regular bedtimes.1

Sleep tips for a better bedtime routine

1. The bedtime routine should take place in the child’s bedroom where it’s quiet — a great time to read two to three books to your child, developing a love for reading, too.

2. Your child will be calmed when the routine is done in the same order each night.

3. Younger children may benefit from a visual schedule (pictures, words, or both) to remind them of the steps.

4. Determine which events are calming and which are stimulating. Calming events are required for bedtime. For example, if bathing is stimulating instead of relaxing, move the bath time earlier in the evening or to the morning.

Kids and electronics

Screen time can impact the quantity and quality of sleep. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day for children two years and older. The light from these screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone in the brain that signals sleep. Due to the usage of multiple electronic distractions (cellphones, computers, tablets) for tweeting, texting, social networking and entertainment, kids’ evenings are “lit up.” The light from these devices is keeping many kids awake long into the night, creating sleep deprivation. Losing one hour of sleep at night can negatively affect a child’s academic performance at school.

Tips for improving sleep

1. Implement an electronic curfew at least one hour before bedtime.

2. Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom.

3. Adjust your child’s schedule to accommodate for homework to be completed earlier in the evening when homework requires using electronic devices.

4. Consider doing homework in the morning, as the light from these devices helps your child wake easier.3,4

Sleep tips for patients with obstructive sleep apnea

Can I get sick from my CPAP mask?

Unwashed CPAP/BiPAP masks may have an odor and harbor germs. Because you breathe through the mask for several hours each night — particularly if you use a heated humidifier in conjunction with the CPAP machine — you create a warm, moist environment inside your mask. Fungi, bacteria and viruses can thrive in this environment. These infectious agents then have direct access to your airway and can make you sick.

  • Wipe the CPAP mask clean each day with a mild detergent and allow it to air dry.
  • If you have any questions, call your equipment vendor or the Children’s Sleep Center for help.

Important things to know about CPAP/BiPAP and sleep

1. You should start to feel better during the day soon after you consistently start using your CPAP/BiPAP at night.

2. CPAP/BiPAP improves your health and well-being in many ways.

3. Not everyone finds CPAP/BiPAP easy, but there are things that you can do to make it easier. Ask your sleep specialist for ideas.

4. To succeed with CPAP, you need to be patient and stick with it. Since it generally will make you feel better the next day, taking a night off from using it is not a good idea.

5. It is not unusual to find your mask is off when you wake at night. What matters is being aware and putting the mask back on again when you notice it is off.

Treating sleep apnea in kids improves behavior, quality of life

Kids with untreated obstructive sleep apnea often are tired during the day, have trouble paying attention and other behavioral problems; these children are not getting enough quality sleep at night.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is marked by pauses in breathing while asleep. These pauses can occur through the night and disrupt sleep. Positive airway pressure machines help keep the airway open. The main message is that this treatment — although it may be difficult to tolerate — can result in a significant improvement in the child’s behavior and quality of life. One of the issues is that children may not want to wear the bulky mask while they sleep, but the study shows that even three hours a night is enough to make a big difference by improving attention, behavior, sleepiness and quality of life.5

Pediatric parasomnias

Pediatric parasomnia refers to movement or experiences that take place during sleep as a child transitions from sleep to wake phases. A few common parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep terrors and confusional arousals.

Parsomnias can be common in families and may be triggered by other sleep disorders, such as OSA and restless leg syndrome (RLS). Other triggers include certain medications, sleep deprivation, irregular sleep schedules, fever, sleeping in unfamiliar places, stress and separation anxiety.6

Sleep terrors occur during the first hours after falling asleep. The child wakes abruptly from sleep with loud screams, is agitated and frightened. The child is unresponsive to a parent’s efforts to calm and does not recall the event in the morning. It’s best to stand by during the event, observe and maintain the child’s safety. The terror is not traumatic for the child, only for the observer.

Nightmares occur at the last half of the night during REM sleep. They are disturbing dreams that wake the child, usually creating fears and anxiety. The child can recall the nightmare in the morning.

Sleepwalking occurs in about 15 percent of children, peaking between 8-12 years of age. Some may exhibit inappropriate behaviors at night, even urinating in strange places. Children have injured themselves by unconsciously carrying out dangerous behaviors such as leaving the house at night. Safety is the biggest concern in managing sleepwalking events. Second-floor bedroom windows should be locked and alarms placed on outside doors to alert parent if the child attempts to leave the home during the night.

Confused arousals may occur at any time during sleep. The child may sit up in bed, cry, whimper, moan and seem agitated and confused. Usually they do not respond to your interventions to comfort.

Home management

  • Maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule seven days a week. Getting the proper amount of sleep to feel well-rested will reduce the triggers for an event.
  • Precautions for safety during sleepwalking events need to be addressed. Alarms on doors and windows are advised.
  • Night terrors and confused arousals do not require the child to be comforted, as this will intensify the event. Parent should stand by to observe and maintain child’s safety.
  • Children will outgrow parasomnias as they get older.
  • If your child is having regular parasomnia events, an evaluation by your sleep provider may be required.

Karen Johnson, APRN CNP, is a certified nurse practitioner at the Children’s Sleep Center in St. Paul. Get more information about the Children’s Sleep Center.

Resources
1. www.npr.org, 2003
2. Sleep for teenagers; www.nytimes.com, (2014).
3. Treating sleep apnea in kids improves behavior, quality of life; www.webmd.com, (2012).
4. Limiting screen time improves sleep, academics, behaviors, study finds; www.sciencedaily.com, (2014).
5. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2012
6. Suresh Kotogal MD (2014). Sleepwalking and other parasomnias in children.

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