It’s a nightly ritual that many children dread: bedtime.
The parents of sleep-averse kids share in the misery, too. Getting a child to go to sleep is sometimes a battle of wills, and mom and dad are often on the losing end of that battle, so they tend to concede another 30 minutes of screen time or cuddling to extinguish a tantrum.
But it’s important for parents to know a good night’s rest isn’t the only thing at stake.
Dr. Mary Jo Kutler, D.O., a pediatrician at Ahwatukee Pediatrics, said the benefits go far beyond waking up on the right side of the bed.
“Sleep affects much more than your mood,” Kutler said. “When children get enough of it, a good night’s rest can fight infection, promote adequate growth, and even fend off obesity.”
The key is setting healthy sleeping habits, she explained. Establishing them may take time, but it’s important for parents to introduce and maintain a bedtime routine, the elements of which are consistent and non-negotiable.
Kutler recommends the following tips for better sleep:
Be consistent. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, even on weekends.
Limit screen time. Activities such as watching television or playing on the computer should be avoided as bedtime draws near.
Ritualize relaxation. Have your child take a warm bath or read a book before lying down for the night.
Mind environment. Be sure to keep your child’s bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
Ban soda and physical activity. Avoid caffeine and exercise before bedtime.
While adherence to a routine helps most kids, it may not solve all sleep problems, Kutler warned.
“Disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, night terrors, and narcolepsy are very real and compromise healthy sleep of thousands of children,” she said. “These types of disorders require the help of specially trained sleep medicine physicians who work with children and their families to diagnose and treat the problem.”
Kutler says symptoms that warrant evaluation by a sleep medicine physician include: excessive snoring, lapses in breathing, gasping for air, bed wetting in children older than 6, multiple nighttime awakenings, difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, restless sleep, hyperactivity, a decline in school performance, excessive drowsiness, sleep walking and night terrors.
Sleep quantity–not just quality–is also important, and it varies by age.
“A 1-month-old infant requires as much as 16 hours of sleep every day, whereas a 17-year-old will do fine with eight or nine hours,” Kutler said.
Ensuring that children get enough sleep can be difficult, and sports activities, long work hours for mom and dad, and an ever-growing list of cool digital distractions only complicate things. But a good night’s rest must be a priority, Kutler stressed.
“A restful and adequate night of sleep is a key to a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “You’re not just saving yourself from dealing with a grumpy little one in the morning, you’re protecting your child from serious health problems.”
-Reach Dr. Mary Jo Kutler, a pediatrician, at Ahwatukee Pediatrics, 15715 S. 46th St., Suite 102, Ahwatukee. 480-496-6444.