Unwilling to go to bed, long hours of screaming and crying at every night just before bedtime; or kicking walls asleep waking up at midnight, and many other oddities. Are you familiar with them?
Children who have sleeping problems bring increasing exhaustion both to themselves and to their parents. But, thanks to science, there are solutions.
Sleeping problems have been attracting increasing attention since the studies of Benjamin Spock who was the first pediatrician to present the seriousness of the problem in the 1950’s.
According to the studies since then, it has become clear that 88% of children are having sleep problems. While 76 % reported having occasional sleep problems, 12 % face with the problem every night.
However, parents may not be aware of these problems all the time. Self- reports from children present that they experience difficulty in sleeping more
How Can You Figure It Out?
The first and foremost tactic is to keep a sleep diary of
There are several questionnaires that may help you with this follow-up. Children’s Sleep Habit Questionnaire is one of the most commonly used among those.
The questionnaire includes four parts: how is your child’s bedtime, what happens after sleeping, waking up during the night and morning wake up routine.
After you track the sleeping habits of your kid for two weeks, you can understand the nature of the problem according to the result of the questionnaire.
Before the sleep diary step, excessive daytime sleeping, awakening at night, having
In addition to the diary, having a thorough physical examination will also help you to understand possible organic roots and accompanying problems.
Studies have shown that sleeping problems are closely related to obesity risk. Calculating Body Mass Index by measuring weight and height will present the physical risks for your kid.
Sleep is Important, Because?
Sleeping problems attract attention because lack of sleep results in serious consequences, both for adults and for kids. Studies have shown that lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Although they seem like adult-type problems, they are possible for children as well.
On the other hand, lack of sleep, in short span, results in inattention, irritability and increased risk for injuries; and mood problems in the long run. Yet, the still leading worry for the lack of sleep, in the case of kids, is the decrease in the secretion of growth hormone.
Growth hormone, as the name implies, is what constructs our body. The secretion of this hormone sends messages to certain proteins in our bodies.
When they get the message, they start to build body parts: bones, skin, hair, nail etc. Thus, we can think of growth hormone as the constructive power of our body. But, how is it related to sleeping?
You know, when nannies sing their grandchildren to sleep, they say “sleep, sleep to grow”. We need to listen elderly more often because there is truth in their sayings. Growth hormone is secreted most during deep sleep.
Thus, children, literally, need to sleep in order to grow up. Chronic sleep problems may make children fall behind their age group both physically and intellectually.
Considering the significant consequences it brings about, it is important to define and recognize the lack of sleep.
What is a Lack of Sleep?
But, what do you think is a lack of sleep? How do we understand that our children sleep less than enough?
National Sleep Foundation recommends; and warns for;
– 14-17 hours for newborns, – less than 11, more than 19
– 12-15 hours for infants, – less than 10, more than 18
– 11-14 hours for toddlers, – less than 9, more than 16
– 10-13 hours for preschoolers, – less than 8, more than 14
– 9-11 hours for school-aged children, – less than 7, more than 12
– 8-10 hours for teenagers, – less than 7, more than 11
– 7-9 hours for young adults. – less than 6, more than 11
Thus, children have different physical needs in relation to their age. It is important to consider your suspicions accordingly.
Once you realize that something is wrong, it would be helpful to find out “why” part of the issue. Understanding the reasons behind the problem is the second step of the ladder to help your kid.
Why Would They Have Problem With Sleeping?
Children face with the sleeping problems through difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep. Putting into more clear words, children may have difficulty falling asleep, or they may sleep far more than expected or wake up at midnight with an impulse, or have difficulty waking up etc.
There are several possible reasons behind these problems including depression, anxiety, or a melatonin maladaptation. But it could be an age appropriate behavior as well.
1. He/She May Just be Normal
If you have suspicions about your kid, consider the fact that he may just behave in line with his/her age. Especially infants tend to have sleep imbalance until they establish the sleep-wake cycle.
You can get help from the questionnaires, National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation list, or from a pediatrician to be sure.
2. Depression and Anxiety
Studies have shown that lack of sleep or having too much sleep is closely associated with depression in children. Like adults, children also have difficulties with what is going on in their lives.
Family issues, exposure to bullying or confidence problems may result in both depression and anxiety. We will look deeply into what can be done about these in the following part.
On the other hand, there is an organic part of the issue as well. Especially for infants, organic bond with the mother causes children to be affacted from what mother is getting through.
For example, maternal depression is closely related to sleep problems during infancy. They literally take everything from mother through the breastmilk.
Lastly, recent research has shown the association between melatonin maladaptation and sleeping problems in children. Melatonin is the hormone which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. That’s why we get so sleepy around the regular sleep hours. Dysfunction of this hormone may result in difficulty in falling asleep.
Don’t worry! Science does not always produce negative results. There are several ready-to-go behavioral tips to overcome the sleeping problems for children: a relaxing bedtime routine, an organized sleep-wake cycle, standing against bedtime crisis, preparing bedtime to be attractive and avoidance from screens.
Let’s have a look at each of them.
How to Cope With Sleeping Problems of Your Kid?
First of all, we need to appreciate that each child is unique and act upon their uniqueness. Although two children have the same problem, there may be different causes for them; or two children may experience the same problem with different sleeping outcomes.
1. Create a Bedtime Routine
Child psychologists state that children need to have routines. Having an established bedtime routine, dinner-time routine, or school time routine etc. provide children to easily adapt to
Considering that almost anything in the environment is new for them, adaptation has an important place in their lives.
Providing a relaxing bedtime routine to your kid led him to accept sleeping time easily. This routine may include a hot bath, a glass of warm milk, a warm hug or a kiss, or reading a story.
All these ways enable a physiological relaxation which in turn support psychological relief.
But you should remember that it is effective only if it is a routine. Thus, you should not make it only for a day or a week but every other day. Trying to do all of them every day could be overwhelming but you can adjust this routine to your daily schedule.
2. Prepare an Age Appropriate Bedtime Schedule
Sleep-wake cycle is important to regulate our bodily functions. You may notice that waking up much earlier than usual makes you feel not functioning well enough. Likewise, in order to maintain their physical and intellectual functioning, children need to sleep enough.
Try to prepare an age-appropriate bedtime schedule for your kid, based on National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation. For example, if you have a toddler, and if he/she wants to be awake at 9:30 at night, make sure that he is in bed at 10:00 to follow your routine.
He/she should be sleeping in 30 minutes and wake up at 10:30 in the morning. If he wakes up too early, then adjust your schedule in accordingly.
However, our bodies adapt to little changes easier than the major ones. Thus, try to apply this schedule step by step. For example, if he/she sleeps at around 10:30, and you want to make it 9:00, set the sleeping time 15 minutes back in every 2-3 days. Leave some time to adaptation.
3. Establish Some Ground Rules
Bedtime crisis is one of the most overwhelming problems for parents. Temper tantrums, cryings, impulsive behaviors and difficulty in keeping your kid in the bed may sound familiar to you.
Children like to test the boundaries of their parents. Both psychologists and pediatricians recommend parents to have strict rules and stand still with those.
What does it mean?
It means that you should establish some ground rules with your child. Also, you should make sure that he/she understands what is the rule and what are the consequences of breaking them. You should only warn your child at the first violation but impose the penalties in the second time.
As for the bedtime crisis, warn your child about sleep time, and follow your routines. If you have problems after this period, remind him/her that he/she is supposed to sleep. Put him to his/her bed with a hug or a kiss and leave the room. You should stand as much as he/she resists. Science ensures that eventually, he will adapt the schedule.
4. Prepare Your Child Physically to Sleep
Our thoughts follow our behaviors. That is why psychologists recommend depressed people to act like happy. If you behave as if you are happy, you will become happier than before.
In the same way, brushing teeth, wearing bed clothes, or dimming the light puts us into the sleep mood. You can include these physical preparation moves in the bedtime routine. If you are managed to follow the same steps every day, the adaptation process would gets much faster.
5. Avoid From Distraction
Sleeping problems occur in relation to mental distractions. The recommendations provided above are for relaxation and avoidance from those mental distractions. They work most effectively in accordance with avoidance from physical distractions.
Even a mild voice or dim light may disturb us when we are prone to be distracted. Likewise, when they have difficulty in falling asleep, children may be easily distracted from a tiny stimulus. Try to keep the sounds and light minimum around his/her room.
Considering that children are most likely to engage in screens, diminishing the distractions not only around his/her room but also inside his/her room is important.
6. Seek Professional Help if the Situation Continues
The researches conducted for many years support the idea that the tips above are supposed to work if you apply them regularly. In case your kid is seriously affected by the issue and those tips do not work, it would be helpful to consult a professional.
Sleep is a significant part of our lives, especially for children. Growth hormone, which constructs our body from infancy to adulthood, is secreted most during sleep. National Sleep Foundation recommends different sleep hours for each age group.
In line with this necessity, you can help your child to overcome his/her sleeping issue with certain behavioral tips. Establishing rules for bedtime to create a relaxing bedtime routine and a sleep-wake schedule, physically preparing him/her for bed and minimizing environmental distractions would help your child to sleep easily.