To say sleep is important, would be a vast understatement. Everything from our mental and physical health – to the way we think, work, learn, and associate with others – is affected by what transpires during those crucial hours of shuteye. However, according to a 2014 policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), approximately two-thirds of 17-year-olds are getting fewer than seven hours a night1 (when the suggested amount of sleep is eight to ten hours).2 Statistics like this one have highlighted the fact that lack of sleep isn’t just a problem, but rather an epidemic amongst youngsters.
One important observation is that sleep-deprived children are not sleepy kids. A sleep-deprived child can find concentration and focus cumbersome, experience mood swings, fidgeting, and lack of impulse and control. According to the DSM-V, many of these symptoms coincide with behavioral disorders such as ADHD, the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder among American children.
The problem is: unlike an adult, a young child can’t always express what is bothering them, or describe their symptoms in detail. About 20%, or 900,000, of the children being diagnosed with ADHD, are actually experiencing different problems.3 Easily misinterpreted, sleep deprivation can cause poor social interactions, which can sometimes be symptomatic of the Autism spectrum. Adding to the confusion, only one in five pediatricians have received any training in sleep disorders – with fewer than one in six feeling well-versed enough to guide parents with advice on the subject.4
For so many reasons, we must examine the importance and role that children’s sleep has on their future. A toddler who doesn’t get the recommended 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day may suffer from delayed language development or reduced cognitive abilities. Most parents are aware of the responsibilities of placing kids into Pre-k classes, and reading to them at an early age – but what about helping them catch enough Zzzs?
Sleep is just as vital as good nutrition and safety. According to the experts at Gingras Sleep Medicine, lack thereof can lead to poor grades, which could adversely affect a child’s potential for academic performance and socioeconomic conditions later in life. Sleep deprivation also increases the risk for injuries in sports, as well as potential accidents when you’re finally forced to hand over the keys to the family car.
Attentiveness from parents is one of the key methods of remedying sleep deprivation in children. Babies and toddlers may not be able to clearly articulate that they are tired, but they utilize “sleep cues” – yawning, eye rubbing, crying, disengaging from activities, and irritability – to let us know.5 It’s important that parents and teachers have an open line of communication, as many sleep-related problems display themselves at school. Should your child’s teacher relay that they’ve shown signs of a disorder, it may beneficial to keep a log of sleep patterns. This way you’ll have something concrete to share with their pediatrician.
There are many guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Academy of Sleep Medicine which will encourage positive sleep habits from a young age.6 For starters, set a good example; when mom or dad place a high priority on their own sleep, children tend to follow suit. Set nightly routines; think: brush, book, bed. Some of the best sleepers stick to a nightly ritual. Brush, TV, bed is okay, too. However, the AAP recommends that all electronics be switched off for an hour prior to retiring for the evening.6 Also, never underestimate the power of a full, active day; exercise and fresh air during the daytime make for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Left untreated, sleep disorders can affect your child’s health in the long run. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, ongoing sleep deficiency is correlated with increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke.7 If you’re uncertain as to what’s ailing your child, seek the help of a certified sleep medicine doctor. Board certified in pediatric sleep medicine, Dr. Jeannine Gingras specializes in sleep disorders and is a renowned leader in the field. Promising better nights and brighter days, she’ll customize a treatment to suit the needs of your child – whether it’s addressing sleep apnea or breathing disorders. If you’re ready to put sleep struggles to bed once and for all, call Gingras Sleep Medicine at 704-944-0562.