As we enter a new year, many people take the time to reflect and consider ways to improve the quality of their family’s health and wellness. Although healthy eating and regular exercise usually take center stage with New Year’s resolutions, one of the most fundamental aspects of good health is good sleep.
While achieving quality sleep is essential at all stages of life, sleep is especially important for developing children and adolescents because rest and recovery are essential for physical growth, mental development, and emotional health.
Sleep deprivation in a child can manifest as behavioral issues, poor academic performance, daytime sleepiness, and learning difficulties.
However, it can be difficult to determine if a child is receiving adequate sleep or if they are experiencing normal age-related changes. We will review healthy children’s sleep patterns, sleep hygiene tips, and possible causes of sleep disturbance.
Sleep is a complex biological process that involves several areas of the brain and endocrine system working together. These structures are controlled by two mechanisms to allow for sleep, with the first mechanism being the circadian rhythm and the second mechanism being sleep-wake homeostasis.
The circadian rhythm is the body’s 24-hour clock that orchestrates a variety of body functions, including metabolism, sleep/wake cycles, and hormonal releases. The clock is roughly based on a 24-hour day.
Sleep-wake homeostasis is the natural inclination of the body to sleep after sleep deprivation or activity. The sleep-wake drive also determines the intensity of the sleep. However, the need for sleep will vary depending on the age of the child.
Sleep consists of three distinct stages: light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Each stage serves a different purpose in the sleep cycle. The light sleep stage forms a majority of sleep in children and is followed by the deep sleep stage, which allows for rest and
nd REM sleep is important because growth hormone is released from the pituitary gland and allows for proper growth and development.
[Read: How Much Sleep Do We Need?]
Healthy Sleep Tips
Good sleep hygiene and habits will allow for consistent sleep patterns in children and avoid behavioral causes of insomnia.
- Set a schedule and have your child go to bed and wake up at a set time every day. By having a regular sleep schedule, expectations will be made, and the child will learn how to fall asleep on their own.
- Avoid “catching up” on sleep during the weekend because it is unlikely that your child will be able to fill a sleep deficit during that time.
- Encourage your child to have regular, age-appropriate daily exercise.
- Have consistent and nutritious feeding to promote sleep and healthy hormone/endocrine balance.
- Have your child avoid sugary, caffeinated, or processed foods (and drinks).
- Have your child relax before bed – try a warm bath, bedtime reading, or another relaxing routine.
Create a room for sleep – avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a cool, comfortable temperature, and do not allow television, computers, or phones in the room.
Other Causes of Childhood Sleep Disturbance
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea can be a cause for sleep disturbance in children. As in adults, there are various causes of obstructive sleep apnea, but children tend to develop this condition due to enlarged adenoids and tonsils. Snoring is usually present in this condition, and a doctor can effectively manage this condition.
- Parasomnias include nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep talking, and night terrors. Up to 50% of children experience some form of parasomnia. Safety considerations and further evaluation may be needed depending on the severity of the problem. A physician can also rule out seizures that may mimic parasomnias.
- Restless Leg Syndrome may be another cause of sleep disturbance in children and is typically related to iron deficiency or inadequate exercise. There are no medications to treat restless leg syndrome in children.
About The Author:
Dr. Jen Taylor is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor from Rochester, New York. Her interest in health and wellness stemmed from her experiences as a youth and college athlete.