Are Your Child's Sleep Problems Caused by His Sleep Environment?
Is It A Sleep Disorder?
When sleep problems occur, always consider possible medical issues (e.g., diabetes, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, asthma, allergies, etc.) that may be impacting sleep. Regular, noticeable snoring and irregular breathing may be a few signs that suggest medical concerns and should prompt further discussion with your child’s doctor. St. Mary's Sleep Disorders Center in Evansville, IN suggests you also examine the following:
The bedroom should be conducive to sleep. Television, video games, and extensive amounts of toys send a message that it is an “entertainment zone”, not a place to sleep. These should be removed whenever possible, with only some toys, books, and few stuffed animals in the room. It also may be helpful to have a different place to do homework, in order to provide a clear “sleep zone”.
It is important that the bedroom be as calming and secure as possible. Fans, humidifiers, or other simple noisemakers can be helpful in reducing outside distractions. A nightlight and favorite stuffed animal can be helpful to reduce fears of the dark. If a child has difficulty falling asleep, the use of a dim light for reading (not overhead light) is generally acceptable. The room should be as dark and cool as possible; warm temperatures generally make it more difficult to sleep. In the morning, exposure to bright light, especially outdoor light, is helpful for making children more alert and regulating the sleep cycle.
Your Child's Routine
Regular routines during the day (e.g., mealtime, homework, play time) and nighttime routines are very important. Parents should create a regular routine at night that incorporates a “gradual slowdown” towards bedtime, which can include basic hygiene needs and a nighttime story, brief “talk time”, etc. Television and intense physical activity should be avoided 45-60 minutes before bedtime. If child becomes upset after being laid down, parents should refrain from holding, rocking, etc., but can provide brief reassurance that is gradually reduced over time for younger children. Avoid turning on bright lights.
Parents should work to provide a consistent bedtime/waketime within a 1 hour “window”. Regularly going to bed or waking up at very different times affects a child’s sleep cycle, and often results in more bedtime struggles or morning irritability. Consistent nap times are also important.
Avoid excessive fluids around bedtime, although a small drink of milk or water is appropriate. Refrain (or severely limit) from all caffeinated or very sugary drinks during the day, especially soft drinks and tea.
Children should be encouraged to be active during the day, with a preference towards at least an hour of physical and/or outdoor activity. Increasing evidence suggests that excessive media time (e.g., television, internet, video games) has been associated with poorer sleep. Parents should work to limit this to an hour per school day. Naps are generally discouraged for school-aged children as they disrupt the sleep cycle.
Parents should work to make sleep time a positive experience, not something to be feared. This may include talking briefly at night about positive experiences during the previous day, reinforcing good things that a child may have done, and generally reassuring that they will see the child in the morning.
Awareness of total sleep targets (including naps) for different age groups is important. The following are general guidelines: 3-5 years (11-13 hours), 6-11 (10-11 hours), and 12-18 (8 ½ - 9 ½ hours).