Back to School, Back to Sleep
Fixing your children's sleep problems may improve their grades and their behavior.
Does My Child Have a Sleep Problem? Awareness Is Key
Given the prevalence and enormous impact of sleep problems on daytime
functioning, we should all regularly look at our own children to see if they
are getting the sound sleep they deserve. For some it may be obvious, but for
most of us it requires some education, investigation, and a keen, watchful eye.
This is because few of us really know what normal, healthy sleep should be,
plus there is a great deal of individual variation among children and at
different ages. Sleep deprivation is also difficult to detect because sleep
problems are masters of disguise, often masquerading in myriad manifestations.
- Children rarely complain about sleep problems. A study of adolescents
showed that very few sought help for their sleep, even though some considered
their problems to be very severe. Another found that almost 90% of adolescents
say that they need more sleep, but how many parents have heard their child say,
"You know, I think I am going to go to bed early tonight."
- Adolescent sleepiness is so prevalent that it almost seems normal. Though
bedtimes get later and later, the biological need for sleep in adolescents does
not decease with age.
- Parents may overestimate the amount of sleep their child gets, because we
may be unaware of when our child actually falls asleep, as well as night
awakenings. Research has shown that medical conditions may cause or contribute
to sleep problems even when overt medical symptoms seem well controlled. For
example, asymptomatic children with asthma and gastroesophageal reflux may have
poor sleep and daytime fatigue. Allergies may cause respiratory distress when
sleeping. In one study, almost 1/3 of the children in elementary school
reported significant body pains during the night, of which parents were largely
- Enlarged tonsils can cause intermittent breathing problems by physically
blocking the airway. One study showed an increase in grades in children with
sleep disturbed breathing after tonsillectomies.
- Sleep deprivation may present itself in many ways other than daytime
sleepiness -- inattention, poor concentration, moodiness, behavioral problems,
and poor academic performance and social skills, to name a few. Interestingly,
poor sleepers were found not to be consistently more tired than good sleepers,
and they were actually least tired in the evenings, when most good sleepers
What Can I Do? Think Sleep!
With so many hidden faces of sleep deprivation, you must be aware and
"think sleep." As a parent, if you do not recognize the problem, it may
well go unrecognized. You will also likely implement any remedies required.
Early intervention is important, given the consequences and that children do
not "grow out of" sleep problems; rather, the sleep problems of
childhood tend to persist into adulthood.