By: Gary Feldman, M.D., medical director, Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach
Not getting enough sleep may seem like a small problem, but over time sleep loss can impact the entire body. For busy kids that have school, friends, extracurricular activities and chores, the end of the day calls for good, quality sleep. Here are some ways that sleep impacts overall health:
- Sleep enhances learning. From newborns to high school kids, sleep helps all kids learn.
- Sleep promotes growth. Your child’s body secretes growth hormones during deep sleep. Over time, lack of sleep can ultimately affect a child’s growth.
- Sleep impacts weight. Insufficient sleep promotes hunger and appetite, which ultimately can lead to overeating and weight gain.
- Sleep boosts the immune system. As your child sleeps, their body produces proteins called cytokines that help the body fight off infection. Lack of sleep can impact the amount of cytokines the body has, weakening your child’s immunity.
When a child suffers from sleep deprivation, the entire family can feel the effects, especially families of children with special needs. Lack of sleep can impact mood and behavior for children, causing crankiness, forgetfulness, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, difficulties concentrating, and other challenging behaviors. All children, but even more so, those with special needs, may develop bedtime anxiety and resistance. Here are some tips to help with getting children to fall asleep more easily:
- Keep bedtime routines consistent. All kids thrive on routines. Predictable habits like a warm bath and brushing teeth can ease kids into sleep.
Avoid using electronics close to bedtime as that can overstimulate kids and make falling asleep a challenge.
- Practice relaxing activities, like reading and listening to quiet music before bed to help cue the body that sleep is coming.
- Keep your child’s bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Many children with special needs are hypersensitive to light and sound. Adjust their environment to their unique sensory sensitivities to keep them comfortable and encourage sleep.
- The whole picture. Seeing the “big picture” can give parents insights into the real cause of sleeplessness, especially for kids with special needs. For instance, children with special needs can experience heightened anxiety and stress from internal and social triggers such as a health crisis, changing schools, parents going through a divorce or moving to a new home. Paying attention to cues and recording any outbursts or difficult behaviors that your child displays can help you identify what may be at the root of the problem.
If you or your child’s doctor has concerns about sleep deprivation, your child may benefit from a sleep clinic consultation or a sleep study.
The Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach provides comprehensive care for children — from birth to age 21 — for behavioral and developmental conditions, including sleep conditions.
Miller Children’s & Women’s offers pediatric sleep specialists, sleep studies and a family centered environment where the care team partners with families to identify and manage sleep disorders. For more information on sleep health, visit millerchildrens.org/stramski or call 800-MEMORIAL.