Questions for Children's Hospital Sleep Specialist
People seem to be more aware today of sleep problems with adults. What about sleep problems in children?
Sleep problems in children are quite common, and awareness is increasing. There have been studies completed showing that sleep problems in children impact all aspects of their lives: school work, social interaction, as well as general happiness and well-being.
Are there any visual warning signs for sleep problems in children that parents should be aware of?
Yes, snoring is a common indicator that a child may have obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, a sleep-deprived child will have difficulty focusing during the day. He/she may be easily upset, irritable or overly emotional.
It seems like many children now have sleep problems or are identified as having sleep problems. Is it as common as it seems, or are we just hearing more about it?
About one in five children has a sleep disorder of some type. Diagnoses range from nightmares and night terrors to snoring, obstructive sleep apnea or sleep walking.
Should I tell my child's primary care doctor if my child isn't sleeping well? What can they do about it?
Your child's primary care physician needs to know about any trouble your child has sleeping. He/she will examine your child with this problem in mind and may refer your child to the Children's Sleep Medicine Center for further evaluation. There is probably a reason for the child's difficulty sleeping. If the cause can be identified and corrected, the result may be a happier, more productive child.
How does lack of sleep impact a child's ability to do their schoolwork/pay attention in class? Is there any correlation between sleep deprivation and doing poorly in school?
All of us gather information during the day while we are awake; then, we consolidate that information into memories at night while we sleep. Therefore, children who do not get a good night's sleep have trouble remembering what they learned during the day, and their schoolwork suffers.
I've heard that a child who is sleep deprived might behave similarly to a child with ADHD. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes, it is true. Symptoms of ADHD such as poor focus, impulsivity and hyperkinesis are also very common in children who simply don’t get the sleep they need.
What can you teach your children about why it's important to get enough sleep? How do you make sleep a priority?
The best way is often the most difficult for parents: lead by example! It is important for not only your child, but also for the parent, to get enough sleep.
How important is a routine bedtime? What should those bedtime routines be?
A bedtime routine, including a consistent bedtime, is very important and helps the child prepare to go to sleep each evening. The routine might begin by bathing, brushing teeth and putting on night clothes, then end with the parent reading a story and having that special "one-on-one" time with the child – which is valuable in so many ways.
How long should it take to establish a new sleep routine with your child?
In as little as one week, an expectation can be established. Rules, limits and boundaries for a sleep routine should be set for children, and they should be expected to operate within those limits. As the child learns that the parent is serious about these expectations, the routine begins to be established. A good pattern and routine can usually be set in about a month.
Could sleep deprivation make my toddler a more "terrible two"?
Absolutely. Lack of sleep can create a "terrible two" at any age, including during the teenage years. Adults also can become irritable and short tempered when they are sleep deprived. Growing children, and even teenagers, have no inhibitions about letting others know when they are unhappy!