Sleep problems in children are more widespread than commonly believed and may a significant impact on both the child and their family.
Childhood sleep problems span infants to teenagers and most have their origins in behavioural issues. A simple tool kit of evidence based strategies such as sleep diaries allow many sleep-related problems to be treated effectively in the home with the help of community health practitioners.
All humans require sleep for their wellbeing. In children it is particularly essential in promoting healthy growth and development.
In framing potential solutions to sleep related issues, it is useful to understand what constitutes normal sleep patterns.
In normal sleep, children cycle between rapid eye movement (REM) light sleep and non-REM or deep sleep phases throughout the night.
Children often appear to be more restless than adults as they have proportionally more REM based sleep.
In falling asleep, children are dependent on both parental (rocking the baby to sleep) and non-parental (teddy bear) cues.
Once asleep, children tend to fall into a deep non-REM sleep for a few hours before cycling between REM and non-REM sleep roughly every 40 minutes.
Common Childhood Sleep Problems
Behavioural based child sleep issues can include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night or early waking.
The way a child falls asleep (such as holding their teddy bear) is the way they expect to go back to sleep after waking during the night. These ‘sleep associations’ can be the root cause of childhood sleep problems.
Some parents experience difficulties in establishing a regular sleep pattern for their children, with the child refusing to go to bed or re-joining their parents rather than sleeping.
Other forms of childhood sleep problems are:
– Anxiety related insomnia (child takes 30 minutes to fall asleep worrying about something)
– Delayed sleep phase (child goes to sleep late and wakes late)
– Medical (sleep apnea caused by tonsil and adenoid issues, ear infections)
In diagnosing an appropriate solution a detailed 24-hour sleep diary kept over successive days, starting with dinner and running through until morning is an important information source.
Managing Behavioural-Based Childhood Sleep Problems
The first step in mitigating sleep problems in children is to establish a consistent bedtime routine:
– Setting a regular bedtime
– Keeping the bedroom dark and quiet
– Avoiding food and drink containing caffeine after 3:00 pm
– Setting a regular morning waking time
Limiting screen time for tablets, computers, game consoles, smartphones and television is also important as blue light can suppress endogenous melatonin levels, impacting sleep onset and affecting…
Continue reading the article and learn more about children’ sleep on Daisy Linden’s blog.