Next week, March 1-8 marks National Sleep Awareness Week, a time to take a look at our own sleep habits. Do your family members get enough sleep? Are you getting quality sleep? If not, is your disrupted sleep affecting day-to-day activities? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it’s important to note that sleep is a key component to our health, performance, safety and quality of life. Sleep is just as important as exercise and good nutrition! Adults should sleep between seven and nine hours a night and adolescents on average should be sleeping approximately nine hours a night. Toddlers and newborns should be sleeping even more than that!

Unfortunately, 39 percent of Americans are sleep deprived and are sleeping less than the recommended hours of sleep each night. Two-thirds of all children experience at least one sleep problem a couple of nights a week and nearly one-third of children younger than 10 wake up at least once a night needing attention. Only 20 percent of adolescents are getting the recommended hours of sleep each night, and more than 50 percent of teenagers surveyed reported that they feel tired during the day. This can lead to adverse effects such as being late to or absent from school, falling asleep in school, being too tired to exercise, or driving while drowsy. Also sleep deprivation can be associated with hormonal changes that lead to weight gain.

Kids and sleep

In addition to getting enough sleep, parents need to make sure their children are getting good quality sleep. Sleep problems may be unrecognized or go undiagnosed in children. Children experience the same broad range of sleep disorders encountered in adults, including sleep apnea, insomnia, parasomnias, delayed sleep phase syndrome, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome, but the clinical presentation, evaluation and management may differ.

The following questions may be helpful in determining if a child has a sleep problem:

  1. Does your child have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
  2. Does your child have difficulty waking up in the morning?
  3. Is your child sleepy during the day?
  4. Has there been a change in behavior with difficulty concentrating in school or more hyperactive behaviors?
  5. Does your child snore? Does your child seem to have difficulty with breathing at night?
  6. Does your child complain of leg pains or “growing pains” at night?

Parents should talk with their child’s primary care provider if the answer is “yes” to any of the above questions. Some children may benefit from an evaluation by a sleep specialist who is comfortable with the care of children. Often, the evaluation consists only of a visit to the sleep specialist’s office. Other children may need further evaluation in a sleep laboratory.

Listed below are some recommendations to help children be good sleepers.

  1. Make sleep a priority for the entire family.
  2. Establish a bedtime routine and make sure each child knows his or her own bedtime.
  3. Turn off all electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime to allow time to wind down.
  4. Keep things consistent. Try to maintain similar schedules on the weekdays and weekends. No more than an hour difference in the weekday and weekend schedules.
  5. Avoid caffeine after the middle of the afternoon.
  6. Avoid vigorous exercise right before bedtime.
  7. Create an environment that is conducive to good sleep – one that’s dark, quiet, and cool.

Watch for additional information next week about how to ease the sleep transition during Daylight Savings Time!

Lynn D’Andrea, MD– Lynn D’Andrea, MD, medical director, pulmonary services, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

The Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the only sleep center in the state dedicated solely to the care of children and teens. The center has two locations (Milwaukee and New Berlin) both accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and staffed by four board-certified pediatric sleep specialists.

Learn more about Lynn D’Andrea, MD.

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