February 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM
Sleep is just as important to child development as a healthy diet and exercise, although it is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of a child’s life.
As adults, most of us can mutter through on little sleep for a day or so before we get unbearably grumpy, but with kids, their bodies are growing and connecting neurons in the brain all the time. Sleep is absolutely critical for healthy development.
While they sleep their brains are processing and sorting everything they learned that day, and that’s not just the stuff they learned at school; their bodies are honing their fine motor skills and processing the social interactions of the day.
To make sure your child is getting the proper amount of quality sleep, here are some tips:
- Have a bedtime routine and stick to it even on non-school nights
- No ‘screens’ after dinner (video games, TV, computer, etc; they’re too stimulating)
- Their bedroom should not be stimulating either, it needs to be relaxing
- 8 to 11 hours of sleep a night, depending on their age. (They have to go to bed early enough.)
Pediatric sleep medicine is not a new field, but is quickly gaining momentum as we discover more and more how much sleep affects the developing child. I have personal, first-hand knowledge of the benefits of addressing a child’s sleep issues.
After a couple of years, and several different doctors, my middle son was diagnosed with sleep apnea at the ripe-old-age of 12 years and 4 months of age.
For a child’s growing body, sleep disorders can be especially disruptive. They aren’t able to make all those neural connections in the brain because they’re not getting the type of sleep that allows for those connections to be made. Their bodies are struggling to just keep breathing.
Some signs to look for:
- snoring, not just when they have a cold
- jumping/startling while asleep
- sleepiness/ ‘just tired all the time’
- behavior problems
Although in my son’s case, he only showed the last two signs, so they don’t have to have any of the ‘classic’ sleep disorder signs. This might have been one of the reasons it took so long to find a diagnoses. He is now so much happier and healthier. He eats better and makes jokes where before he only craved carbs and sugar to compensate for the lack of energy and was tired and miserable.
If your child is showing any signs of a sleep disorder, please don’t wait to talk to your pediatrician or see a specialist. (Thank you, Dr Bandla, for helping my son!)