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Sleep, or the lack thereof, has been on my mind lately. Of course, having a two-month-old will do that. So, when it comes to kids and sleep, what’s normal? And what’s abnormal?
Children have a wide variety of sleep patterns throughout their childhood. For example, newborns are different from teenagers, and so on. A newborn’s sleep pattern, for example, is not tied to daytime hours. Instead, their sleep is characterized as very frequent naps throughout a 24-hour period. As they get older, babies eventually move to a more consistent nighttime sleeping pattern with a few naps during the day. As children age, their sleep requirements decrease but increase again through puberty and into the teenage years. A more adult-like pattern then develops by the early 20s.
Most problems or questions we encounter with sleep are typically normal variants. However, as you can now see, there is a huge variety of sleeping patterns, and most issues can be explained this way.
For children with sleep problems, we primarily focus on sleep hygiene. Children typically thrive on routine – and bedtime is no exception. This helps the body to ‘learn’ good sleep patterns. Children are also heavily affected by distractions during the bedtime routine. Thus, they should avoid caffeine, high-intensity physical activity, and screen time. Teenagers especially need to be encouraged to avoid screen time before bedtime. Keeping a screen in a child’s room is never a good idea – this can significantly disrupt sleep. Activities such as reading, word games, and puzzles promote sleep.
However, children who cannot function throughout the day, have poor school performance, or sleep a lot throughout the day may have a diagnosable sleeping disorder. Sleep disorders generally can be categorized into two parts: issues with falling asleep and problems staying asleep. Pinpointing the specific sleep-related issue with your child will require answering quite a few questions. Further evaluation may require testing, such as a sleep study or a referral to a specialist for further evaluation.
Solutions for diagnosed sleep disorders can vary widely, from medication to surgery, but a conversation with your child’s pediatrician is a great place to start.