Back to School, Back to Sleep

Fixing your children's sleep problems may improve their grades and their behavior.

From the WebMD Archives


What to Look for in Your Child: Signs, Symptoms and Typical Tactics

Results from the National Sleep Foundation's 2004 Sleep in America poll may (or may not!) surprise you:

  • Infants most often seem sleepy or overtired during the day (29%) and/or wake too early in the morning (21%) at least a few days a week.
  • Toddlers most often stall about going to bed (32%), resist going to bed at bedtime (24%) and/or seem sleepy or overtired during the day (24%) at least a few days or nights a week.
  • Preschoolers most often stall about going to bed at bedtime (52%), resist going to bed at bedtime (30%), seem sleepy or overtired during the day (26%), snore (19%) and/or have difficulty waking in the morning (19%) at least a few days or nights a week.
  • School-aged children are most likely to stall about going to bed (42%), have difficulty waking in the morning (29%) and/or snore (18%) at least a few days or nights a week.

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. Consider that:

  • 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 unaware.
  • 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 were tired.