Child sleep disorder.

There are many potential sleep problems among children, including insomnia, sleep-walking, sleep terrors and nightmares, restless leg syndrome.

The American Psychiatric Association defines sleep disorders as problems with sleep quality, timing and duration.  Living with a sleep disorder can be stressful for both children and parents and can impact health and well-being and reduce the ability to function.

All children can have trouble dropping off to sleep or staying asleep, but you may start to notice a pattern of disordered sleep.  Look out for:

  • Your child delaying bedtime by requesting stories, drinks, multiple trips to the bathroom
  • Wanting you to stay with them, or requesting to sleep in your bed
  • Snoring while sleeping
  • Having restless legs
  • Waking up after about 90 minutes or waking up in the night distressed
  • Being tired and irritable during the day
  • School work suffering

We all need sufficient sleep to help us maintain our health.  If we don’t get it, this will cause both short term and longer-term problems.  Younger children will generally appear irritable.  Teenagers may be depressed.  They could all be experiencing low mood, memory and problem-solving issues, impaired immune system, and often falling asleep during the day.

Children’s need for sleep varies as they develop – a young baby will spend most of its time asleep for example, moving on to an afternoon nap for a toddler.

Sleep disruptions can be caused by obvious disrupters such as too noisy an environment, unfamiliar surroundings, a too-stimulating day, over-excitement, food and caffeine, too much exercise, stress and worry.  However, they can also be caused by undiagnosed allergies, illness or incorrect breathing, causing snoring, sleep apnoea etc.

If you are concerned about your child’s sleeping, you should consult a medical professional to exclude any serious conditions.

However, there are things you can do at home to help.

  • Make sure you have a consistent, calming bedtime routine – you might like to read a story, bathe your child.  Have at least one hour gap from gaming or other electronic activity
  • Make the bedroom a calm, safe haven, with limited clutter
  • Keep the temperature of the room comfortable but not too warm and make sure that lights are dimmed to a minimum – definitely no blue light from devices such as phones and gaming equipment
  • Emphasise closeness with you or another family member with cuddles, chatting through the day’s activities and identifying anything that may be worrying your child.
  • Never scold your child for having a sleep problem – make sure he or she associates bed and bedtimes with good experiences

In addition to the above, you may want to help your child to have a healthy, active lifestyle during the day.  You should also pay attention to what they eat and drink and watch on TV and other devices but also think about their breathing style, and whether this could be linked to any problems they may be experiencing.

We all breathe instinctively, but even young children can be breathing inappropriately e.g. through the mouth rather than through the nose.  This can lead to many different problems including disturbed sleep.  There is a great deal of research on why children mouth breathe and this includes not being breast-fed or kept on soft foods for too long – both of these factors can lead to a poor and sub-optimum facial structure that can lead to poor sleep and dental problems down the line (see Myofunctional Therapy article).

Fortunately, you can change breathing styles, and even young children can be taught how to breathe better.

For more information contact Nigel

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