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3/5/12blog post

could my child have a sleep disorder?

Struggling to get your child to fall asleep, or stay asleep? Concerned about frequent nightmares, night terrors or sleepwalking? Wondering whether your child’s snoring is something to worry about?

You’re not alone! Many parents have these same questions and I hope to help answer some of them as we head into National Sleep Awareness Week.

About 69 percent of children 10 and under experience some type of sleep problem, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2004 Sleep in America poll. Sleep disorders can have real and far-reaching effects on your child:

Sleep is a vital need, essential to a child’s health and growth. Sleep promotes alertness, memory and performance. Children who get enough sleep are more likely to function better and are less prone to behavioral problems, health problems and moodiness. That is why it is important for parents to start early and help their children develop good sleep habits.

The first place to start when trying to develop good sleep habits is to identify: How much sleep should my child get?

After getting a general idea of how much sleep your child should obtain on a typical night, parents should next focus on establishing a regular and consistent sleep routine to promote good sleep habits.

The #1 tip for good sleeping habits is to follow a consistent routine. A bedtime ritual makes it easier for your child to relax, fall asleep and sleep through the night.

Recommended Bedtime Routine

The bedtime routine should typically begin approximately an hour before the ideal time for your child (based on age) to fall asleep and has two main components:

  1. A Nighttime Activity (60 minutes before sleep initiation) This is something that should serve as a signal for your child’s brain that it is time to start calming down. It should start with the lights being turned down and be void of electronics. Examples of some healthy nighttime activities include, playing a board game, taking a bath, drawing, or working on a puzzle.
  2. A Bedtime Routine (30 minutes before sleep initiation) This should begin approximately a half hour before the time your child needs to fall asleep. The bedtime routine should be consistent each night and include a shift activity (e.g., having a bedtime snack, brushing teeth), then move to the bed with a bedtime story, and finally end with saying “goodnight,” a gentle rub, and a “I love you.” Then the parent should leave the room.

If you suspect that your child might have a sleep disorder, speak to their pediatrician. If any of the following symptoms are observed, you may need to seek a referral to Dayton Children’s Sleep Clinic for further evaluation

  • A newborn or infant is extremely and consistently fussy.
  • A child is having problems breathing or breathing is noisy.
  • A child snores, especially if snoring is loud.
  • Unusual nighttime awakenings.
  • Difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep, especially if you see daytime sleepiness and/or behavioral problems

Recommended Readings:

Dawn Huebner, What to do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems with Sleep, Magination Press, Washington D.C., 2008.

Richard Ferber M.D. Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985,2006.

For the anxious child and for those kids that fear the dark: M.F. Coffman, Uncle Lightfoot: Overcoming Fear of the Dark, 2009.

About the author:

Dr. Zach Woessner is a Staff Psychologist within Dayton Children’s Psychology Department. Dr. Woessner has been at Dayton Children’s for over eight years and works one day a week as a behavioral sleep medicine specialist within Dayton Children’s Sleep Clinic. Dr. Woessner also treats a wide variety of behavioral health concerns, including the assessment and treatment of ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, and Behavioral problems.