Quality sleep is essential to a child’s well-being. How is a sleep problem resolved in children, both big and small?
Sleep problems can affect children of all ages—babies who can only fall asleep in their parents’ arms, children who wake up too often for a “wee”, teens who are unable to fall asleep before the late hours of the night—are examples of potentially problematic situations where sleep is out of reach.
Quality of sleep is of pivotal importance at all stages of development. A number of factors influence a child’s sleep needs, including age. A newborn needs between 16 and 20 hours of sleep for a 24-hour period, while a child of 3 to 5 years of age needs about 11 to 12 hours sleep. Adolescents require roughly 9 hours sleep.
When sleep is elusive
Parents know just how much a lack of sleep can affect a child. The potential consequences are numerous and include, among others:
- drowsiness and fatigue
- bad mood or irritability
- difficulty managing emotions
- behaviour problems
- memory, concentration or attention problems
- poor academic performance
Everyone has experienced temporary sleep problems, but it is the recurrence of the problem and the consequences it has on quality of life, well-being, and on the child’s health or activities that warrants the use of the term “insomnia” or “sleep disorder”.
Causes of sleep disorders in children
Many factors can compromise quality of life and how long children sleep. Here are a few examples:
- stress or anxiety
- social, academic or family-related difficulties
- symptom or illness such as:
- respiratory problem
- infection (e.g., otitis or a cold)
- depressive or anxiety disorder
- attention deficit disorder with/without hyperactivity (ADHD)
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- use of certain drugs such as psychostimulants used to treat ADHD
- transition period (e.g., moving, a separation, start of the school year)
- hectic schedule or unstable environment or lifestyle
Sleep disorder management in children
How to manage a sleep disorder depends on several factors, including its nature, severity, recurrence, causes and consequences. Each situation has a solution, but you shouldn’t standby in the sidelines if your child is unable to get a good night’s sleep. The first step is to identify the cause(s) and to try to fix it. A healthcare professional can help you evaluate the situation and find the appropriate solutions.
The best and most beneficial strategies to remedy a sleep problem are to change habits, behaviours or the environment. Unless otherwise indicated by a healthcare professional, never give your child medication to remedy a sleep disorder, even if it’s an over-the-counter medication or a natural health product.
Here are a few examples of things you can do to help your child sleep better:
- Create a sleep conducive environment:
- Avoid bright lighting and adjust the temperature of your child’s bedroom (not too warm, not too cold).
- Ensure that the mattress, pillow, sheets and blankets are comfortable.
- Encourage family members to respect the bedtime ritual in your home. Keep noise to a minimum at bedtime, put down the volume of the TV and lower your voice during conversations.
- Avoid untidiness and clutter in the room. Remove objects that might distract your child (TV, computer, etc.).
- Carefully choose the activities your child will do during the evening, especially in the hours preceding bedtime. Avoid stimuli such as:
- physical activity (sports, competitive games, roughhousing, etc.)
- sustained intellectual effort (complex board games, homework, lessons, etc.)
- entertainment and technology (stimulating TV episodes, video games, internet, tablet, etc.)
- foods or drinks that contain caffeine (chocolate, chocolate milk, iced tea, energy drinks, etc.), and
- Avoid late-night copious meals. If your child wants a snack before bed, offer light, healthy foods.
- Read your child pleasant bedtime stories or encourage him/her to read if it has a relaxing effect.
- Maintain a stable bedtime routine. For example, bath time, putting on pyjamas, teeth brushing, story time, a goodnight kiss. Additionally, opt for a reasonable and consistent bedtime routine.
- Rethink bed or room-sharing.
- Avoid using your child’s room as a place to reinforce a punishment or to isolate him/her.
Remember that your pharmacist is always there to help you with any questions related to your child’s health and well-being.