by Kimberly Allen, RN
Do you have trouble getting your child to sleep? If so you’re not alone. Sleep problems are among the most common probles we face as parents with our children. Researchers estimate that up to half of all children between 1-5 years of age have some type of sleep problem. Most involve “bedtime resistance” or “delayed sleep onset”. Whatever the sleep problem is it can have significant impact on how your child is able to adjust both socially and emotionally as well as how he/she performs in school. Children with chronic sleep difficulties are becoming sleep deprived and going through their day in a fog.
During normal sleep you cycle between REM and NREM sleep throughout the night. During REM sleep your eyes move rapidly however, your body remains fairly still. This is also the stage of sleep when you dream. NREM is a lighter stage of sleep when you are more easily awakened. The amount of sleep needed varies from infants to adults. Newborns sleep when ever they please, off and on throughout the day and night. Usually around 4 months, your baby will begin to sleep for about a 6 to 8 hour stretch in the night. That increases to around 10-12 hours once your child reaches 6 months. However, most babies continue to awaken at least once during the night up to 9-12 months of age. Once your child has reached school age he/she will still need between 9-12 hours of sleep a night. A recent study of children and their teachers from kindergarten through 4th grade found that at least 10% of the children were falling asleep during school.
There are a variety of different sleep problems that can affect your child including difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakening through the nnight, nightmares and night terrors as well as grinding and clenching teeth to name a few. Frequently sleep problems in childhood are related to either poor sleep habits or increased anxiety about going to bed and falling asleep. One of the biggest developmental milestones for young children is “separation anxiety” and for all young children bedtime is viewed as a time of separation. Some children become so anxious that they will do anything and everything they can to prevent that separation.
Nightmares are a common sleep issue during childhood. Nightmares tend to affect girls more frequently than boys. They can begin at most any age. Nightmares usually occur later in the night during REM sleep. Your child will usually awaken and be frightened. Most of the time they can remeber the dream and with a little reassurance from you they are usually able to go back to sleep. On the other hand, night terrors occur during NREM sleep usually soon after your child has gone to sleep. Your child may start thrashing around violently and screaming or yelling. Your child generally doesn’t wake up until someone wakes him/her. Your child will be confused as to why you woke them because he/she won’t have any memory of the event.
The best way to avoid sleep and/or bedtime problems with your child is to develop good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the foundation needed for good sleep for everyone, no matter how old. Poor sleep hygiene is the leading cause of most sleep disorders. A poor sleep routine and a poorly organized sleep environment are the leading causes of poor sleep hygiene. It’s important to establish healthy sleep practices including developing consistant sleep/wake schedules that are age appropriate. And remember to limit naps for older children to prevent problems later. Establish short, under 30 minutes, but consistant bedtime routines like reading a story before bed every night. Keep a quiet, calm environment by turning the TV down and minimizing any distracting noises. Eliminate products containinfg caffeine and/or sugar after dinner. For the best results you should start developing your childs sleep habits early in childhood and be consistant.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.