Doctor: Children need sleep more than we may realize

Nov 10 2013 - 11:03pm

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Go to bed -- Now!

One of the biggest power struggles parents deal with every night is getting their child to go to bed, but it's crucial to their development.

Dr. Justin White, a family physician with Intermountain Healthcare, said poor sleep can be associated with cognitive and behavioral disorders. In fact, he said, ongoing research is looking into links between sleep disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"The symptoms of sleep deprivation can be similar to that of ADHD," he said.

White said children need a lot more sleep than adults do, and the younger the child, the more sleep they need.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children from birth to a year old need 14 hours of sleep, including naps. Children ages 1 to 3 need 12 hours, including naps. For those ages 3 to 6, 11 hours is sufficient. From 6 to 10 years of age, 10 hours of sleep is recommended, and from 10 to 17 years, eight to nine hours is recommended.

Dr. Jason Church, a pediatrician at Ogden Clinic, said the importance of sleep is perhaps underlined by the fact that a newborn can spend up to 75 percent of a day sleeping.

"Sleep plays an essential and critical role in the overall health, growth and function of infants, children and adolescents," he said. "It is important to understand that sleep is an active, not passive experience. The human brain is engaged in processes that are every bit as complex as those it undertakes during awake hours."

White and Church said children have several common complaints e when it comes to getting adequate sleep. They include trouble falling asleep, resisting bedtime, waking up several times during the night, nightmares and night terrors and snoring.

Church said snoring is most often related to enlarged tonsils and adenoids, but with the prevalence of obesity in American children, snoring can also be related to weight.

Children not getting enough sleep can also display daytime sleepiness, irritability, reduced concentration, depression and other behavioral problems, both physicians said.

So how can parents help their children get adequate sleep? When it comes to babies, it pretty much depends on their temperament, White said.

"A new baby's sleep habits often have more to do with their temperament than anything," White said. "Some babies start sleeping through the night in a few weeks, regardless of what parents do, while other have trouble for months or years."

One thing parents can do, White said, is to rock a fussy newborn until almost asleep, but then put them in the crib, so they can fall asleep there. If they feel comfortable falling asleep in their crib, they are more likely to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the night.

"Having a new baby in the home can definitely lead to some parental sleep deprivation," he said. "This is a topic I'm especially interested in, because my wife and I have two small boys at home and a new baby due in a few weeks. I usually advise new parents to do the best they can to maintain their health and get a reasonable amount of sleep."

This includes sleeping during the day when the baby naps, even though it can be tempting to use that time to get things done, White said.

Church said it's important to establish a consistent sleep schedule and routine, especially once the child begins sleeping through the night.

Other suggestions include not eating within an hour or two of bedtime, avoiding products with caffeine several hours before bedtime, making sure your child gets enough exercise, keeping the child's bedroom quiet and dark and around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Don't use your child's bedroom for time-out or punishment," White said. "Keep the television set out of the child's bedroom. Children can easily develop the bad habit of 'needing' the television to fall asleep."

Church also said activities such as bathing, reading, rocking and softly singing to your child can help get them ready for a good night's sleep. He said, in addition to keeping the TV out of the bedroom, do not allow any electronics to be taken to bed, including iPads, cellphones and video games.

Parents should also set a good example for their children, Church said.

"Often what we do makes so much more of an impact on our children than what we say or tell them to do," he said.

If you still don't have any luck with your child getting a good night's sleep, see your doctor. There may be a medical problem, such as restless legs syndrome or anemia.

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