Your child’s sleep is essential for their brain development. Sometimes, it truly is hard to put children to sleep, but when does a child’s difficulty sleeping point to a sleep disorder? And what should parents do about it?
Sleep is important for optimal health and wellbeing of children. It affects various aspects of early child development. Consequently, sleep problems in children are associated with challenges in cognition, socio-emotional needs, physical health and family dynamics. In particular, a sleep-deprived child can have some challenges in behavior and health such as irritability, difficulty in concentration, depression and chronic health problems like obesity and headache. On the other hand, children who sleep well have a stronger immune system, better academic performance, behavior, memory and mental health.
Some of these sleep problems stem from an organic or medical cause, presenting as difficulty falling or staying asleep, snoring and pauses in breathing (apnea). Other common sleep problems in children include nighttime awakenings, daytime sleepiness, stalling and resisting going to bed, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. In any case, these should be discussed with your child’s pediatrician for further evaluation and timely intervention if needed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that sleep health education and screening of sleep problems should be included during child or pediatric visits throughout development. A consistent bedtime routine coupled with emphasis of daily childhood routines in general is one of the sleep health recommendations which the family can practice. Here are some healthy sleep habits from AAP:
- Make adequate sleep a family priority. Parents should model this to their children, showing them that sufficient sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle. And this should be prioritized over school work or screen time or scheduled evening activities (such as sports or extra lessons).
- Follow a regular daily routine. An example of an effective bedtime routine is brush, book, bed. This should be reinforced with consistent waking time, eating time, play time and nap time.
- Be active during the day. Always offer various physical activities and free time during the day to ensure that by night time they can wind down and have their down time by bed time.
- Monitor screen time. Discuss a family media use plan and set consistent and clear boundaries about use before bedtime and certain protected times (during meals or gadget-free play time).
- Create a sleep-supportive and safe bedroom and home environment. Part of a good sleep hygiene includes turning off all screens at least 60 minutes prior to bedtime, dimming the lights and keeping away toys from the bed.
- Realize that teens require more sleep, not less. Puberty is a time of rapid physical, socio-emotional and cognitive development, in which adequate sleep plays a significant role in optimal transition.
- Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice and other sugary drinks. Aside from making them more alert with sugary drinks, early childhood caries have been associated with night time feeds in which babies’ teeth are constantly in contact with drinks rich in sugar.
- Check with your child’s care providers (teachers and nannies) about your child’s alertness during the day. As a consequence of poor sleeping habits, children can manifest with daytime symptoms such as difficulty focusing in school, hyperactivity or irritability.
Always involve your pediatrician regarding any issues or concerns with your child’s sleeping habits, as most problems are easily managed when timely intervention are done.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?
2. Mindell JA, Williamson AA. Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond. Sleep Med Rev. 2018;40:93-108. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2017.10.007
About The Expert
LOUDELLA V. CALOTES-CASTILLO, Child Neurologist
Dr. Louddie is active in both academe and clinical practice. She believes in work/life integration and is unceasingly learning and re-learning the amazing brain from her four little rascals and her extended children (her patients).
She completed her Pediatric Residency and Fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital. She took further specialty training in Neuromuscular diseases in children at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne Australia and completed a Summer School of Myology at the Institut de Myologie, Pitie-Salpetriere, Paris France.
She is currently a Clinical Associate Professor and an attending physician of the Division of Pediatric Neurology, University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital. She is also a guest faculty of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health where she teaches both basic and clinical neurosciences. She has served as a Board of Trustee of the Child Neurology Society of the Philippines from 2017-2018.
Dr. Louddie is affiliated with various hospitals such as The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center - Global City, ManilaMed, and National Children’s Hospital. In MedMom – Institute of Human Development, as their child neurology consultant, she collaborates with other medical specialists and allied health professionals in the care of children with special needs. She has empowered the Muscular Dystrophy Association of the Philippines (MDAP) as they launched the First Muscular Dystrophy Run in the Philippines.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.