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Simple steps to better sleep for kids

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child sleeping on white bedMore and more parents are looking for simple ways to improve their children’s sleep patterns. Getting better sleep is such an essential contributor to the overall health and happiness of growing children, so it’s worth taking a few extra steps to ensure that those extra hours of rest are built into their daily routines. After all, it’s not just the sleeping child that is getting the benefits, but all the other family members reap considerable rewards from their own rest and from enjoying the improved emotional and physical health that comes along for the child with better sleep habits. 

Every child is unique, and so are their sleep needs. Factors like age, activity level, and individual biological rhythms influence the amount of sleep a child needs. Generally, toddlers need about 11-14 hours of sleep, junior school-aged children require about 9-11 hours, and older teenagers can get by with around eight hours. Understanding these needs is the first step in helping a child get the right amount of sleep.

A consistent sleep routine is critical for children. It helps them set their internal clocks and makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day. A stable bedtime routine also promotes a feeling of security and comfort that is so important in a child’s emotional well-being.

Identifying sleep issues early can prevent them from becoming more significant problems as a child grows. Common signs of sleep disturbances include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking, and excessive daytime drowsiness. These issues can adversely affect a child’s mood, behavior, learning, and overall health.

It is estimated that approximately 20%-40% of infants and school-age children have poor sleep health. Poor sleep includes waking overnight, difficulty falling asleep, and difficulty sleeping alone. Up to 75% of high school students sleep less than the recommended eight hours per night, and impaired sleep quality may result in poor academic performance and behavioral disruption.

Finding a simple and effective way to adjust sleep patterns in children.

For many caregivers and parents, finding an easy and efficient solution to their children’s sleep problems has become necessary. One way that has substantial scientific support is to use the body’s inbuilt circadian rhythms better. This involves a natural biochemical process in which the brain’s pineal gland starts synthesizing the neurohormone melatonin to prepare the body for sleep.

Melatonin plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm and is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. The increase in secretion as night approaches correlates with a subsequent increase in a feeling of sleepiness about two hours before the person’s regular bedtime. In the normal rhythm, the levels of melatonin increase gradually throughout the dark hours, peak around 3 to 4 AM, and then drop off as ambient light levels increase.

If a child cannot fall asleep or has periods of disturbed sleep during the night, it may be a sign that melatonin levels are too low. The US Department for Health and Human Services has reported that melatonin supplements may help with some sleep disorders in children. Studies showed that, on average, melatonin helps improve sleep onset latency (getting children to fall asleep a few minutes faster) and can increase total sleep duration. 

Understanding the best way to make use of melatonin to get better sleep.

To start off, the guidance of an experienced healthcare provider should be sought. As we said before, each child is unique and needs to have attention paid to his or her own specific conditions. Once you have reached agreement that melatonin has promising benefits, the next thing is to find a quality source of melatonin that will always meet the specifications that the doctor has laid out. 

Because melatonin supplements are not necessarily regulated by the FDA in the same way as other prescription medications, they can be bought as over-the-counter capsules or gummies. There is a chance that the purity and strength of the content are not always what is printed on the label. The National Library of Medicine has reported that in most of the supplements, the actual melatonin content varied from the labeled content by more than 10%, and another hormone, serotonin, which is a precursor of melatonin, was present in 26% of the supplements although it was not listed on the label. The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reported that melatonin content ranged from barely one-seventh to almost five times the labeled content, and comparing different batches of the same product showed a variance in the strength of as much as 465%.

Another important factor that should influence the choice of a melatonin supplement is that many deliver unit dosages of 5 mg – 10 mg, which is far higher than most doctors recommend for the treatment of sleep disorders. In the normal circadian rhythm, the pineal gland produces between 0.5 mg and 0.8 mg of melatonin each day in children. Overdosing on melatonin can produce adverse effects, including stomach upsets, diarrhea, and vomiting.

The way to get the right quality and dosage of melatonin is to rely on the fact that outside of the US, many countries strictly regulate melatonin as being available only by prescription. This means that all the usual controls that ensure that the product can only be dispensed by a licensed pharmacy and must conform precisely to the labeled contents will ensure that your or your child child is getting the right dosage of melatonin and nothing else. Other ways of addressing sleep problems in children.

Parents can take several different paths to try and address sleep pattern problems in their children, but most of these require a substantial investment of time and money before results will be seen. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that is used to treat or manage a range of problems in both adults and children living with insomnia, depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. For children, behavioral interventions can be quite powerful. Some examples of behavior modification for a parent can include gradually increasing the amount of time between parental checks on a child who is crying. Steadily delaying the child’s bedtime until the desired bedtime is reached. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine that includes calming activities such as reading a book or taking a bath.

    All of these can require considerable involvement of parents’ own time and take many months to yield the required results.

 

  • Children with underlying issues such as autism and ADHD may suffer from poor sleep patterns. Up to 70% of younger children diagnosed with ADHD display sleep-disruptive behaviors like bedtime resistance, latency of sleep onset, decreased duration of sleep, increased number of overnight awakenings, daytime somnolence, sleep-disordered breathing, and restless legs syndrome. The most common treatment of ADHD is to combine behavioral interventions like CBT with prescribed stimulant medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse). However, one of the side effects of stimulants is sleep disruption, so addressing sleep problems becomes even more problematic as long as these medications are being taken.

 

When the adverse effects of these medications outweigh the benefits, it’s often worth looking at the simple but increasingly popular approach, which is to use dietary supplements that boost the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. A diet rich in healthy omega-3 fats can support brain health and help in dealing with cognitive and behavioral problems like ADHD. While it’s possible to get enough extra omega-3 from a diet packed with fresh cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna, it’s difficult to structure a diet for children that will deliver sufficient levels of the necessary omega-3.

By some calculations, children would have to eat at least 3 main meals each week made up of omega-3-packed fish to maintain the necessary levels. In such a case, a regular dietary supplement such as Zoomind, designed specifically to give a boost to intake of omega-3, as well as other essential components that are necessary to combat ADHD, can be used along with a prescribed dose of melatonin since there are no contrary effects.

Is sleep disruption becoming more common?

There’s a growing trend of sleep disruption; according to the Texas Children’s Hospital, nearly 30 percent of children and 75 percent of teenagers are not getting the right amount of sleep. Getting enough sleep is not just a matter of setting aside sufficient time for rest. The quality of sleep plays an important part in determining whether a child will wake up fully rested with all of the benefits that come from a good night’s sleep.

Why is good sleep so important in a growing child?

It’s important not to think of sleeping as simply a rest period. Especially in children, a lot is going on in the body while a child is sleeping, and disruption of sleeping patterns can throw the whole body’s functions out of sync. Just a short list of what’s going on inside a sleeping child’s body includes:

  • During sleep, a growing child’s body releases the human growth hormone (HGH), which stimulates physical growth and development. This means that even though the child is resting, he or she will grow taller and more robust, and the body will repair itself. Muscles, tissue, and bone are added during sleep, particularly during the rapid growth spurts in early childhood. After the onset of puberty, there are substantial changes in the shape and size of both the outer body and internal organs. Lack of sleep can disrupt these processes and lead to a great variety of problems, from stunted growth to failure to mature sexually and emotionally.
  • While asleep, a child’s brain processes and consolidates the information observed and learned during the day. This is crucial for memory, problem-solving, and cognitive development. If there is a lack of sleep, this can negatively impact a child’s mood and behavior. Sleep-deprived children may become irritable, have difficulty concentrating, and exhibit behavioral issues. Good sleep is also closely linked to academic success, and sleep-deprived children may have difficulty focusing in school, leading to lower academic performance. A well-rested child is more likely to be alert and attentive in the classroom, facilitating better learning.
  • Quality sleep also helps strengthen a child’s immunity. Sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system, making children more susceptible to illnesses and infections. Adequate sleep is essential for the body’s defense mechanisms to work effectively. Research has even shown that sleep deprivation can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines against viral infections.

Can sleep patterns be improved with simple medications?

It’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider before considering any medication to change a child’s sleeping habits. They can guide whether this is appropriate for your child’s specific sleep issues and age. If melatonin is recommended, following the doctor’s guidance regarding the appropriate dosage and timing is essential. Melatonin should be used as a short-term solution and combined with healthy sleep habits, such as a consistent bedtime routine and minimizing screen time before bed. 

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