Sleep comes first for children

Sleep comes first for children

March 3, 2015 - 9:00 am

A lack of sleep leads to difficulties for children

The change of seasons, the start of school, new after-school organized activities, sports teams,  March break or vacations and daylight savings time – can all contribute to sleep challenges for children and families in my experience.

What do we know about sleep problems? When parents, educators, health professionals or caregivers are trying to solve a particular challenge that a child is having, it is important to first ask,“Is this child getting enough sleep?”

I have learned and observed that sleep that is interrupted or insufficient can negatively affect your child’s cognitive development and abilities. Poor sleep can also lead to emotional instability or moodiness. A child’s ability to attend and learn is also dependent on good sleep. And finally, I have also witnessed behaviour troubles such as aggressiveness and hyperactivity can be related to poor sleep in children.

If one member of a family is not sleeping well, then often times, the rest of the family is not sleeping well either.
Some questions to ask yourself about your school-aged child if you want to consider if poor sleep is causing problems for your child. You can ask them about yourself too!

Questions to answer about going to sleep

Does your child go to bed at the same time at night? Can your child fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed? Fall asleep alone in his or her bed? Is your child ready to go to bed at bedtime? Is your child afraid to sleep alone? Afraid to sleep in the dark?

Questions to answer about staying asleep

  • Is your child restless during sleep?

  • Does your child sleepwalk?

  • Does your child move to someone else’s bed during the night?

  • Report pains during sleep? Grind his or her teeth? (Your dentist may be the first to observe that teeth grinding is a problem.)

  • Does your child snore loudly?

  • Stop breathing during sleep? Snort or gasp?

  • Complain about sleep?

  • Does your child wake screaming, sweating and inconsolable?

  • Is he or she alarmed by frightening dreams?

  • Awaken during the night?

  • Awaken more than once during the night?

  • Does your child easily return to sleep without help once awakening?

Questions to answer about morning time

  • Does your child wake up by him or herself?

  • Or need an alarm clock?

  • Or need an adult or sibling to wake up?

  • Is your child in a negative mood in the morning?

  • Does your child have difficulty getting out of bed?

  • Or take a long time to become alert?

  • Does your child have a good appetite for breakfast?

Questions to answer about daytime sleepiness

  • Does your child suddenly fall asleep in the middle of activities?

  • Does your child seem tired during the day?

  • Does your child fall asleep or get sleepy while playing alone? Watching TV? Riding in the car? Or eating meals?

Are there indications your child is not getting enough sleep or is experiencing poor sleep? If so, then consider addressing sleep challenges first when your child is showing difficulties in learning, emotions, attention or negative behaviour.

If you ever wonder if occupational therapy can help your child , I have written two FREE eBooks you can download, the first describes when occupational therapy can help pre-schoolers and the second when occupational therapy can help school-age children. -OT Christel Seeberger

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