Sleep difficulties in children can be a common and frustrating issue for parents. Children may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. These difficulties can lead to problems such as daytime fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and behavioural issues.
Strategies for Improving Sleep
Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is one of the most effective strategies to help children develop healthy sleep habits. This means having a set bedtime and wake-up time every day, including weekends. Parents should also try to limit screen time before bed, as the blue light emitted from electronic devices can interfere with the body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep.
Another strategy that can be effective in helping children sleep is creating a relaxing bedtime routine. This can include reading a story, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath. Parents can also try white noise machines to create a peaceful environment in the child’s bedroom.
Some children may also benefit from using a weighted blanket, which can provide a sense of comfort and security. These blankets are designed to distribute weight evenly across the body, which can help to promote feelings of calm and relaxation.
In addition to these strategies, parents need to be patient and understanding. Children’s sleep patterns and habits can change as they grow, and what worked well one year may not work the next. Be open to new strategies and be flexible as children’s needs change.
Sleep Difficulties and ADHD
It is also important to note that sleep difficulties can be particularly common in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD may have trouble falling asleep due to difficulty calming their minds or regulating their hyperactivity. They may also have trouble staying asleep due to sleep-disordered breathing or restless leg syndrome. Studies have shown that treating sleep disorders in children with ADHD can lead to significant improvements in their symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Suppose a child has been diagnosed with ADHD. Your physician might recommend consulting a pediatrician or sleep specialist to evaluate and treat any underlying sleep disorders contributing to their symptoms.
Parents of children with ADHD should learn that medication used to treat ADHD may impact sleep. Stimulant medications, for example, can make it harder for some children to fall asleep at night. Parents should discuss with their pediatrician about adjusting the timing of the medication or switching to a non-stimulant medication.
Sleep and Anxiety
Another factor to consider when discussing sleep difficulties in children is the impact of anxiety. Children with anxiety disorders may have trouble falling or staying asleep due to racing thoughts or worry. They may also experience nightmares or night sweats. Anxiety can also manifest physically and make it difficult for children to relax and fall asleep.
It is essential for parents to address anxiety issues in children and to work with a therapist or counsellor to develop strategies to manage anxiety. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness exercises, can help promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Parents can try to create a peaceful and comfortable environment for their child’s bedroom and can teach their child how to develop a bedtime routine that includes winding down before sleep. This can include reading a book, listening to soft music, or practicing yoga.
Some children may benefit from medication to help manage anxiety symptoms, and parents should discuss this option with a pediatrician or child psychiatrist.
Anxiety can significantly contribute to sleep difficulties in children, and parents must address these issues and work with professionals to develop strategies to manage anxiety. Relaxation techniques, creating a peaceful environment, and developing a bedtime routine can help promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Medication may also be considered as an option to help manage anxiety symptoms. Addressing anxiety issues in children may significantly improve their sleep and overall well-being.
Sleep and Mouth Breathing
Lastly, parents should consider if sleep difficulties in children are impacted by mouth breathing. Mouth breathing can occur for various reasons, such as nasal congestion, allergies, or structural issues with the jaw or airway. Children who breathe through their mouths while sleeping may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.
Mouth breathing can lead to various problems, such as dry mouth, bad breath, and an increased risk of tooth decay. It can also cause or exacerbate sleep-disordered breathing, such as snoring or sleep apnea.
Suppose a child is experiencing sleep difficulties related to mouth breathing. Then it is essential to consult a pediatrician or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to evaluate and address any underlying issues. This can include the treatment of nasal congestion or allergies or addressing structural issues with the jaw or airway.
Parents can also try to encourage their children to breathe through their nose by providing a humidifier, using saline nasal sprays, or teaching them breathing exercises. A nasal strip at night can also help open the nasal passages and promote breathing.
The above are some general strategies and recommendations to try. If parents want to investigate individualized strategies for their children, an intake appointment with an STG professional might be the next best step to try. An STG Professional can help evaluate what worked and has not worked and further investigate additional strategies that might be helpful for your child and yourself.