What To Do If Your Child Can’t Sleep
Hyperactivity, restlessness, and unusually defiant behaviour. Do these sound like symptoms of sleep deprivation? Unbeknownst to many parents, these are common signs that a child is not getting enough rest, and they can be easy to miss — or misattribute — if you don’t know what to look for.
While tired adults are typically groggy and sluggish, kids tend to exhibit behaviour from the other end of the spectrum. Overactive, tantrum-prone, and clumsy, youngsters with sleep problems can even be misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, given the unusually high rate of sleep disorders in kids diagnosed with ADHD, many experts suspect that the problems aggravate or even partially cause one another.
Unfortunately, sleep disorders can be difficult to identify, since they’re not always as obvious as a struggle to fall asleep. For example, obstructive sleep apnea, a dangerous nighttime breathing disorder, does not always cause telltale snoring.
Falling asleep should take between ten and twenty minutes. If it takes your child significantly more or less time than that, it’s a sign that they’re not getting enough. Other common signs include difficulty waking up in the morning, moodiness, and distractibility.
What can a concerned parent do? If you suspect that your child is not getting enough rest, be sure to bring any suspect behaviour to the attention of a health professional. In the meantime, make sure to help your child establish positive bedtime habits. Fortunately, it just so happens that many of these tips apply to adults as well!
First, set a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Just like adults, kids’ sleep is governed by their Circadian rhythms, which rely in part on external cues. A relaxing, scheduled bedtime routine will make it easier for your child to fall and stay asleep. Importantly, make sure that electronic devices are not a part of the equation. Shut off TV and put away handheld devices at least 2 hours before bedtime. If you’re not sure how much sleep your child needs at their age, consult with your health professional and adjust accordingly.
As with adults in the family, make sure your child’s mattress and pillow are of high quality. An unsupportive sleep surface can not only make it more difficult to fall asleep, but hinder normal development of the skeletal system.
Dealing with supernatural threats to a good night’s rest? If your child lies awake in fear of monsters under the bed, simply dismissing their fears may not do the trick. While there are no scientific studies endorsing a water-filled spray bottle labelled 'Monstercide,' more than one parent has vouched for its effectiveness. Putting a favourite toy on guard also tends to ward off ghosts and ghouls.
Caffeinated, sugary beverages are generally not recommended for children, but it’s particularly important to avoid them late in the day. Caffeine in soda, for instance, can affect the nervous system for up to 6 hours after consumption. A can of Coca Cola with an after-school snack can spell disaster for a good night’s rest.
A child who struggles to sleep through the night will have a fair bit of anxiety about the issue, so fixating on the problem is likely to make it worse. Rather than focusing on the importance of sleep, turn your attention to keeping your child’s nighttime routine soothing and consistent. A bath, bedtime story, or a conversation about the day are examples of non-stimulating activities well suited for the evening.
If your child’s sleep problems persist despite your best efforts, get in touch with your paediatrician. Chronic sleep deprivation can have devastating effects on development, but is very treatable in almost all cases. Whether it takes an inventively labelled spray bottle or a mattress upgrade, we wish you and yours peaceful, restorative sleep at all stages of life.