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Children's Health

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Good, Sound Sleep for Your Child

Making sure your child gets good, sound sleep ensures he or she will have a sound foundation for proper mind and body development.

Consequences of Sleep Disturbances continued...

Chronic sleep deprivation: It is important to realize that the effects of chronic sleep deprivation are cumulative: daytime sleepiness increases progressively. This means that even small sleep changes, over time, will have significant negative effects. Likewise, small changes allowing a bit more sleep may have similarly positive effects. It all depends on the type and degree of the sleep problem.

Fatigue : Even seemingly minor sleep deprivation causes fatigue in children. And for a child, simply being awake a certain amount of time is over-stimulating and fatiguing, even if she is not engaged in any activity at all.

Especially during the day, with friends and family, she wants to be part of the action and so her natural response to fatigue is to "fight it." That is, she tries to remain awake and alert. This results in the secretion of hormones like adrenaline, which then cause her to become hyper alert. She is now wide-awake but exhausted. Fussiness, irritability and crankiness soon follow. She also cannot be attentive and learn well at this time. This is why overtired children often appear wide-awake, wired, and hyperactive. Now you have a situation where she is so pumped up she cannot easily fall asleep.

Interestingly this also often induces night awakenings. So don't be fooled by your seemingly wide-awake, not-tired child and put her to bed later. Putting her to bed earlier is actually the remedy. Sometimes even 15-20 minutes earlier may have a significant impact and be all that is needed. You may also be surprised to find that a well rested child is easier to put to bed.

Sleep on These

Following are some observations from various studies illustrating some of the difficulties faced and the behavioral changes in children with sleep problems (from Wiessbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and On Becoming Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, MD):

  • Children do not "outgrow" sleep problems; problems must be solved.

  • Children who sleep longer during the day have longer attention spans.

  • Babies who sleep less in the daytime appear more fitful and socially demanding, and they are less able to entertain or amuse themselves.

  • Toddlers who sleep more are more fun to be around, more sociable, and less demanding. Children who sleep less can behave somewhat like hyperactive children.

  • Small but constant deficits in sleep over time tend to have escalating and perhaps long-term effects on brain function.

  • Children with higher IQs -- in every age group studied -- slept longer.

  • For ADHD children, improvements in sleep dramatically improved peer relations and classroom performance.

  • Healthy sleep positively affects neurologic development and appears to be the right medicine for the prevention of many learning and behavioral problems.

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