It isn’t unusual around the holidays or perhaps on the eve of a big birthday celebration, for a child to have difficulty falling asleep. Sometimes the excitement and anticipation of the next day’s activities can interrupt a good night’s sleep. But this should be a rare occasion.
So how do you know how much sleep your child should have, and how do you identify when your child may have a sleep problem?
Lowcountry Parent talked with an MUSC Children’s Health board-certified pediatric sleep physician to learn more about sleep problems occurring in children. Dr. Jacqueline Angles says that infants, less than three months of age, will sleep three to four hours, wake up for an hour or two and then sleep again for another three to four hours. Infants tend to sleep a lot.
Toddlers ages one to two years old, should average 11 to 14 hours of sleep; toddlers ages three to five years old should average 10-13 hours; children six to 12 years old should average nine to 12 hours of sleep; and teens ages 13 and up should average eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. She emphasized that these are averages and can vary by individual child.
She said sleep is important to a child’s growth and development as hormones work when a child is in deep sleep. Most children, unlike adults, are in deep sleep during most of the sleep.
She said some of the sleep problems are obvious, while others are not.
“They may be snoring at night at least three nights a week,” Dr. Angles said. “They may be tired during the day and a teacher may say your child is falling asleep in class and is not interested in class.”
“At night times or while taking a nap, you might see labored breathing, and you’ll see the chest wall moving more than normal. Sometimes in an older child, they may wake up with headaches. The child seems like they are in a fog or daze,” she continued. “Some children are gasping in their sleep or snorting.
School children might misbehave and are found acting out or are just being rambunctious. Teens might seem very tired and miss early morning classes. They come home and go right bed. She said to look for little clues. Perhaps their grades are starting to fall. Or they don’t want to do anything.
Electronics in Today’s World
“In today’s world, school aged children and teens are being stimulated by electronics,” she said. “It’s a big part of why we are seeing many sleep problems. Electronics are messing with their circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycle).
“They are on iPads, iPhones, kindles, playing games on electronic devices, and watching TV,” she said. “Electronics have really impacted the sleep profession.”
Dr. Angles cautions parents that sleep problems will not go away by themselves and said they will continue to get worse.
She recommended that a child receive a comprehensive evaluation to help identify the causes of sleep issues. Some may require medical help to correct tonsils or adenoid problems. In some cases, a c-pack (a device to help regulate breathing) may be required.
About 25 percent of the sleep issues today may require behavior modification. She recommends that all electronic devices be turned off two to three hours before bedtime. Other changes include: no television in the bedroom, no cell phones and no video games should be allowed.
“The bedroom should be strictly for sleep,” Dr. Angles said, “And the bedroom environment should be conducive to a child going to sleep.”
There are a number of factors that can contribute to a child developing sleep problems and in order to determine the cause or causes, a thorough exam should be initiated. To learn more about sleep problems in children, visit our Sleep Disorders Program at MUSC Children’s Health online or call 843-876-0444.