Sweet Z-z-z-z-z's: The World of Childhood Sleep
Healthy child development requires sufficient slumber. So, when a young child fails to fall asleep at an appropriate hour, both parents and child suffer.
However they get them, those z-z-z-z-z's of childhood slumber are more than just sweet. They are absolutely necessary for healthy young development.
While observational studies do not allow researchers to say whether poor sleep quality is a cause or a result of depression and low self esteem, other sleep researchers have linked a lack of sleep in young children to a whole host of daytime woes. These include hyperactivity, behavior problems, learning difficulties, and that dreaded condition feared by all parents: the cranky child. Sleep disturbance and behavior disorders are likely associated in children, even if it is rarely possible to say with certainty which causes which.
Because many parents work and the whole household rises early, bedtime is more important than ever. "To get kids to go to bed on time, the caregiver must be consistent," says Arthur Maron, MD, pediatrician and chairman of graduate medical education at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. "Children must know that tonight, and tomorrow night, and the night after that, bedtime is always 8:00 pm." However, merely knowing the rules may not change children’s behavior unless parents are imaginative in their techniques for enforcing bedtime.
One useful technique recommended by experts is the effective use of "transitional time" between normal evening activities and bedtime. Quiet, low-key activities such as bedtime stories, prayers, singing, warm baths, cuddling, and quiet talk make for good transitional time. Many children have a favorite teddy bear or toy they associate with bedtime each night.
Wrestling , roughhousing, exciting videos, or shoot-'em-up television shows just before bed should be discouraged. On the other hand, exercise is very important for creating the kind of fatigue that leads to good nightly sleep. For a variety of reasons, many children do not get adequate opportunities for exercise during daylight and early evening hours. Increasing exercise—though not in the transition hours—may be a good technique to improve sleep for some children.
Last reviewedApril 2012by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.