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Children's Health

Help Kids Sleep All Night

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Sneaky Caffeine

Even just one caffeinated drink a day robs children of half an hour of sleep each night—another reason to monitor your child's intake of sugar-laden sodas. But caffeine can lurk in lots of surprising places, including bottled teas, chocolate, and coffee-flavored ice cream. Hefty amounts can also be found in over-the-counter medications such as Anacin, Excedrin, and Dristan, so scan the active and inactive ingredients lists for caffeine before you give your child one of these meds. And check drink and protein bar labels for guarana, a common herbal stimulant.

Nightmares

Bad dreams are often triggered by real-life events that frighten kids, including immunizations, being left alone, or accidents—not to mention the scary impressions left by a few minutes of the nightly news report. "Nightmares are actually good for a child. They're a way to process and make sense of both real and imaginary fears, which enables him to deal with them better in his waking life," says pediatrician Alan Greene, M.D., author of From First Kicks to First Steps and a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University. "If a nightmare wakes him up, your best approach is to comfort him and tuck him back into bed, then give him the opportunity the next day to draw pictures or tell stories to work through the underlying issues."

If your child screams, moans, or thrashes wildly in the middle of the night, and is glassy-eyed and unresponsive when you try to console him, he is probably having night terrors. As distressing as his behavior is for you to witness, it's simply a sign that he's stuck between two stages of non-REM sleep. He won't even remember the event the next morning, so it's better left unmentioned. Night terrors often occur when a child is potty training or overtired, so try leading him to the bathroom or letting him sleep a little longer in the mornings or during naps.

A Hidden Health Concern

If your child snores heavily off and on, thrashes about in bed, and awakens frequently, her struggles with sleeping may signal an underlying health condition that requires attention. "Probably 60 percent of children brought to our clinic have sleep issues related to a physical reason," says Mindell. One common culprit: sleep apnea, a condition characterized by temporary breathing disruptions during slumber. Childhood cases have skyrocketed by 436 percent in the past 20 years, largely because the number of overweight children has tripled to 16 percent in the same period (excess fatty tissue in the throat can block airways).

Other sneaky sleep-stealers include respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies, as well as restless legs syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move your legs when they're at rest) and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder marked by brief "sleep attacks" that come on during the day). If lifestyle changes such as nixing caffeine or moving the TV don't solve your little one's sleeplessness within two to four weeks, see your pediatrician or visit one of 2,000 sleep clinics nationwide to get the proper diagnosis and treatment. For a sleep clinic in your area, log on to sleepcenters.org. Getting to the root of the problem will help you and your child rest easy.

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