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Sleep Drugs Often Prescribed for Kids

Study Shows Children With Sleeping Problems Are Frequently Treated With Medication

Alternative Treatments for Children With Sleeping Problems

Nahata's team also looked at how often other approaches for children with sleeping problems were advised. They found that diet and nutritional counseling were advised for 7% of children and that 22% were prescribed behavioral therapy such as psychotherapy and stress management to relieve the sleep problems.

For 19% of children, both behavioral therapy and medication were advised.

While sleep difficulties are often thought of as an adult-only problem, that is not the case. At various times in their lives, Nahata says, up to 25% of infants, children, and teens have some sort of sleep problem.

Besides insomnia, sleep difficulties in children of school age can include sleepwalking, nightmares, sleep talking, restless sleep, and refusal to go to bed. In teens, inadequate sleep is also a frequent problem. Drinking too much caffeine in sodas can cause disturbed sleep.

Second Opinion

Another sleep expert says he is not surprised that the medication use is that high among children. But "it is a concern, the 81% finding," says William Kohler, MD, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hills and director of pediatric sleep services at University Community Hospital in Tampa. Fla. He is familiar with the study results but was not involved in the study.

Like Nahata, Kohler calls for studies of the medications in children.

But treating children with sleep problems is crucial, and the earlier the better, he says. "A child who does not sleep well does not learn well or behave well," he says.

Medication can help, Kohler says, if it is appropriately prescribed. If medication is needed, it's ideally used until improvement is seen, and then the child should be weaned off, Kohler says. Medication shouldn't be used alone; behavior therapy and other strategies are usually advised as well, he says.

What Parents Can Do

Setting up a healthy bedtime routine and making the child's bedroom conducive to sleep can help, Kohler says.

Bedtime and awakening times should be the same from day to day, Kohler says. "Get the TV out of the bedroom, get the Nintendo out."

"Cut out the caffeine after 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., and ideally right after lunch," Nahata says.

Knowing how much sleep a child needs at various ages is important, too. According to Nahata, an infant needs 14 or 15 hours a day, children aged 1 to 5 need 12 to 14, children 6 to 12 need 9 to 11, and teens need 9 to 9.25 hours.

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