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Importance Of Restful Sleep For Optimal Health In Children

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Sleep deprivation causes insomnia, unhealthy food cravings, crankiness, etc. Stress-induced nightmares, unconscious sleep walks, breathlessness, and inexplicable daytime sleepiness are common sleep problems. Ensure your children receive adequate sunshine, eat healthy, nap and exercise during the day, follow a fixed sleep schedule, and supplement with natural sleep inducers like Chamomile tea.

Quality, regular sleep promotes alertness, memory retention, and physical and mental performance. It also helps to prevent or lessen learning and behavioral problems in your child.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

Different ages require different amounts of sleep each day. Here is a quick guide to help you decide whether your child gets the right amount of sleep:

  • Age 0 to 2 months: at least 18 hours per day.
  • Age 2 to 12 months: at least 15 hours per day.
  • Age 1 to 3 years: at least 12 to 14 hours per day.
  • Age 3 to 5 years: at least 11 to 13 hours per day.
  • Age 5 to 12 years: at least 10 – 11 hours per day.

Which Sleep Problems Should I Watch Out For?

1. Nightmares

Nightmares often occurs during times of transition, stress, or change in a child’s routine. They usually occur later in the night and are remembered the next day.

Nightmares tend to go away naturally. Encourage your child to talk about their bad dream. You can help alleviate nightmares by talking about comforting images before bedtime, and avoiding electronic exposure at night.

2. Sleep Terrors/Sleepwalking

Sleep terrors or sleepwalking occur most frequently between ages four to eight, and during the early part of the night. The child is both asleep and awake at the same time, and often has no memory of the event the next day.

Awakening or comforting the child during the event does not usually help since it prolongs the event. Make sure your child’s room and your house are safe.

Most importantly, allocate at least 11 to 12 hours of sleep with one additional hour given for bedtime rituals so that the child feels relaxed before falling asleep.

3. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which a person stops breathing periodically while sleeping. Signs of sleep apnea in children include snoring loudly, restless sleep, and/or feeling tired upon awakening in the morning and possibly throughout the day.

Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, allergies, hidden food sensitivities, reflux of poorly digested food, weight problems, and other medical conditions may all contribute to causing sleep apnea.

It is important to see your doctor or visit a sleep center for a diagnosis and to start treatment as soon as possible.

4. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is often first noticed in puberty, but may also occur starting at age ten. These children experience excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable “sleep attacks,” even when they believe they have gotten enough sleep at night.

Tips For Better Quality Sleep

The keys to better sleep quality are:

  1. Getting plenty of sunshine and exercise during the day
  2. A healthy diet
  3. Slowing down two to three hours before bed
  4. Allocating at least 10 hours or more of rest time for children.
  5. For children three years and younger, a daytime nap is also critical and separate from their night-time sleep.

Problems Caused By Sleep Deprivation In Kids

  • When children are tired, they become over-stimulated and struggle to fall asleep. They also tend to play less and have decreased concentration and focus which causes their performance at school to suffer.
  • Studies published in leading medical journals suggest that sleep loss may increase hunger and cravings for high-fat/high-sugar foods and beverages, decrease metabolism, and reduce optimal growth.
  • Sleep deprivation decreases one’s coping skills, increases stress levels, and sets the foundation for developing heart disease and diabetes.

The good news is there are many things you can do to improve your child’s sleep. Check out the tips below for some easy changes you can make to dramatically improve your child’s sleep quality.

Light Exposure

Exposure to natural light is vital for keeping our internal clock in sync. During the day, Melatonin – our sleep hormone – is barely detectable.

As darkness falls, Melatonin production increases and the body feels less alert and gets ready for sleep. The blue light emitted from fluorescent light bulbs and electronic devices prevent Melatonin production.

  • Invest in blackout curtains or thick drapes for extreme darkness
  • Drown out noises with a fan or a white noise machine.
  • Use dimmer switches on lamps in the evening.
  • Turn off all electronic devices and televisions three hours before bedtime.
  • Install software on electronic devices which shifts from blue to red light as evening approaches.

Establishing A Sleep Routine

  • Develop a regular sleep schedule where your child wakes up and goes to sleep around the same time every day, and has the same night-time routine every evening.
  • It’s easier to relax, fall asleep, and sleep through the night when you follow a routine. Routine allows us to form positive associations with our bedtime routine.
  • Young children – between ages 2 to 5 – need a daytime nap of 30 minutes to 2 hours every day.
  • Daytime naps are independent of sleep required at night.
  • Naps decrease daytime crankiness and improve sleep at night.
  • Avoid meat, dairy products, sugar (i.e., refined, fruit, artificial sweeteners, ready-made, and pre-packaged food), and processed foods at night.
  • Make dinner the smallest meal of the day. Try to eat a few hours before bedtime.
  • Start ending the day 12 hours after a child has awoken. For example, if your child has awoke at 6 a.m., try to slow down the day by 6 p.m. Have a light dinner followed by brushing teeth, reading a bedtime story, saying a prayer, and play relaxing soft music on a timer.
  • Make sure your child’s bedroom is quiet, cool, and well-ventilated. It is easier to stay asleep if it is not too hot or too cold.
  • Put your child to bed before he/she falls asleep. Say goodnight and leave the room. Children that fall asleep on their own will sleep better throughout the night.
  • Don’t go to your child’s room every time he/she wakes up during the night as they will become dependent on your presence before they fall asleep. Only attend to them if you are concerned about their safety.
  • Don’t place babies on a waterbed, sofa, pillow, soft mattress, or another soft surface to sleep.

Physical Activity

Exercise gets your adrenaline pumping and raises your body temperature, which is good during the day, but exactly the opposite of what you want to fall asleep.

Let your child do physical activities during the day, but not at night. Slow down three hours before bedtime.

Natural Supplements

The following natural supplements can assist with inducing sleep:

  1. Lemon Balm, Valerian, and Chamomile tea are for those often on the go who feel overstimulated, tense, and/or cannot focus clearly during the day.
  2. Chamomile is the gentlest of the three and can be used at all ages.
  3. Melatonin 0.3 to 1 mg taken two hours before bed.

Need More Help?

If you are concerned about your child’s sleeping patterns, visit an integrative family physician who can help guide you to the underlying cause of your child’s sleep problem.

He/she can also discuss lifestyle and diet changes, along with supplements which will immediately help improve your child’s sleep.

Payal Bhandari M.D.

I provide personalized, comprehensive primary care in an integrative, holistic way to families and individuals of all ages. I went into the field of medicine to help people. Medical school taught me how to diagnose illnesses with countless textbook examples and practice. Experience has taught me how to read peoples' maladies, and to restore patients back to being whole. By taking a deeper look at the root cause of disease and embracing the mind, body, and spirit, I work with patients in transforming them back to wellness.

Payal Bhandari M.D.

I provide personalized, comprehensive primary care in an integrative, holistic way to families and individuals of all ages. I went into the field of medicine to help people. Medical school taught me how to diagnose illnesses with countless textbook examples and practice. Experience has taught me how to read peoples' maladies, and to restore patients back to being whole. By taking a deeper look at the root cause of disease and embracing the mind, body, and spirit, I work with patients in transforming them back to wellness.

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