Sometimes it can take a while for kids to settle down before bed. When preparation for bedtime is taking too long daily, the reason for that could be a sleep disorder.
Not getting enough sleep has a huge impact on children’s mental health. Researchers from the University of Warwick have found that depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviour and poor cognitive performance in children is impacted by the amount of sleep they get. Their findings showed that children aged 9 to 11, who sleep for less than seven hours, are 53% more likely to have behavioural problems than those who have 9 to 11 hours’ sleep.
What is a sleep disorder?
A sleep disorder is a condition that affects a person’s ability to sleep well on a regular basis. There are many reasons why children may not sleep well. This includes health problems and stress. A recent health report found that two out of three children aged 10 and under have experienced a sleeping problem.
Sleep problems are usually classified into two major categories: dyssomnias and parasomnias.
Dyssomnias in children include:
- Difficulties with sleep-onset
- Snoring or sleep apnea
- Limit-setting sleep disorder
Examples of parasomnias are:
- Rhythmic movement disorders
Indicators of sleep disorders
How can parents find out about a child’s sleep disorder? Here are some of the most common signs:
- Child lies in bed asking for another story, movie, drink or anything else that may take hours
- Child feels sleepy during the day but then has trouble falling asleep at night
- Child can only sleep for about 60-90 minutes at a time, even at night
- Child complains of itchy skin which may be the result of stress or sleep deprivation
- Child experiences restless leg syndrome
- Child snores loudly
How to deal with sleep disorders in children
A doctor may recommend medication or lifestyle changes depending on the severity of the sleep disorder.
Medications are commonly used to treat sleeping problems in children. In a survey of almost 700 paediatricians, more than 75% recommended a non-prescription or prescription medication to treat insomnia.
Medical treatment for sleep difficulties usually include:
- Sleeping pills
- Melatonin supplements
- Medication for any underlying health issues that may be causing their sleep disorder
Lifestyle changes can significantly improve the quality of sleep. Especially when they’re prescribed by a doctor, along with medication if necessary.
The following measures can be applied:
Tip #1: Observe the child’s sleeping tendencies to identify behavioural patterns
To figure out what is preventing the child from sleeping well, parents must pay special attention to the child’s behaviour patterns.
Tip #2: Learn and use relaxation techniques before bedtime
Practising relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, help the child to calm down as well as focus their mind and body. A ritual such as this can have a soothing effect. This is because having parents around and knowing they care for you feels comforting to a child.
Tip #3: Create a relaxing bedtime routine, such as giving a child a warm bath or reading them a story
Creating a calming evening routine can help a child slow down. For example; reading a book in bed, listening to relaxing music or cuddling their favourite teddy. Doing this can reduce a child’s anxiety and get them ready to sleep.
Tip #4: Create a good sleep environment
Establish the conditions a child needs to sleep better. This is cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free from interruption.
Tip #5: Reduce stress as much as possible
Parents can’t make everything smooth and comfortable for their children. The key to helping children manage stress is to teach them how to solve problems and be okay with mistakes or failure.
Tip #6: Introduce more vegetables and fish into a child’s diet and reduce sugar intake
It is important to encourage children to eat vegetables. They contain essential nutrients that are important for their health, growth and development. Fish is a great source of protein because it is full of micro-nutrients such as; iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential for optimal heart health and brain development. Sweet treats are not recommended for children. This is because the sugar content could prevent them from having a good quality sleep.
Tip #7: Make sure your child is doing enough physical activity during the day
Four in five kids do not do enough physical exercise during the day, research says. Doing more physical activity may help children fall asleep faster at night. Exercise increases the time spent in deep sleep. This is the most physically restorative of the sleep phases.
Tip #8: Consider getting an emotional support animal
Pets can have a very beneficial effect on children with anxiety. In fact, 21% of children without a dog tested positive for anxiety, and only 12% of children who had dogs tested positive. Pets are known to ease loneliness, reduce stress and encourage physical activity. These are areas where stressed children often suffer. Getting an emotional support animal can contribute positively to a child’s mental health condition.
Tip #9: Look at the timing of your meals before bedtime
The child should have dinner at least two hours before bed. This gives the digestive system time to work before starting to slow the body down ready for sleep. If the child is still hungry at bedtime, try offering a small snack 30 minutes before bed. This could be a banana or a small glass of milk.
Tip #10: Ensuring a regular morning wake time
Children who wake up at the same time in the morning are less likely to have difficulty falling asleep at night. Setting a clear, stable morning routine helps children stay on track.
Please consult your doctor before making significant changes to your child’s routine.
Sleep is an absolute necessity for all human beings, but especially for little ones. Some children experience difficulties with falling asleep, sleeping or waking up. These may signal a sleep disorder. While sleep disorders can have varying degrees of severity, most of them can be treated. What is important is to recognize the early signs of sleep disorders, to help as soon as possible.