Sleep disorders in children - what can parents do?

Does this child's motion look familiar to you?

What about this young gentleman, sleeping on the stairs at home?

Didn't schools just open a few days ago? Why would children be this sleepy already? What could be the cause of these unusual patterns?

A study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine notes genetic factors could be responsible, following their observation of over 1400 sets of twins, aged between 8 to 18 years old.

To read more on this study, go here.

There could also be more practical reasons behind your child's sleep disorder. Sleep disorder specialist Dr Alison Bentley starts by going into ways of defining some of the more common sleep disorders:

We're looking at about 85 different sleeping disorders (those that are aside from insomnia) and most of them are very rare. The common ones are insomnia - which we'd categorise as not getting enough quantity of sleep, you don't have enough hours of sleep, so therefore you have a drop off in functionality the next day. The other group is the hypersomnias, who seem to sleep the number of hours that they need, but obviously have a poor quality of sleep, so they feel sleepy the next day. The third group are the parasomnias - those are the night terrors, nightmares, sleep walking, all those kind of weird things that happen at night.

So parents and guardians - what are the most practical considerations when it comes to treating your child's sleep disorder? Dr Bentley unpacks some:

Often children won't tell anyone what's happening, so there's a bit of a 'secret' thing that's happening. Often with babies, parents will know when they're up. But often children in primary school and adolescence - as you know, the older they get, they speak to their parents less and less - and they don't tell people what's going on and it's difficult for them to get up in the morning. I think there's a sense that, most people don't really know what insomnia is and often they'll tell me that 'it's when a person doesn't sleep at all' and I say 'no no no'. Insomnia means that you are aware that you are not getting enough hours of sleep, because the next day, you are sleepy, you are tired, you're grumpy - that's what it means. If you're having a problem, you should do something about it.

To avoid your child doing this in class...

...observe their sleeping patterns by engaging them frequently on how they would have slept and observe their energy levels. But please, do not get paranoid and come across as overbearing, lest you get completely shut out by your child. Dr Bentley's advice on how to pre-diagnose before seeking medical intervention, is important:

When we talk about insomnia, we look at if it's an actual disease or is it a disorder on its own? It's a symptom in those kinds of things, as there's secondary insomnia with stress and it can by any kind of stress. It can be a small thing like 'I have an exam tomorrow' or 'it's my first day of school tomorrow and I'm really nervous' because there's an unknown quantity to what's coming up. So if you might sleep badly for one night or two nights, we wouldn't call that insomnia and we wouldn't do anything about it because as soon as that goes away, the sleep comes back. So if it's what we call 'transient insomnia', then we wouldn't treat that.

Be calm, relax and observe. Very soon, your little one will be like her, if you act on Dr Bentley's advice.

Listen to the full conversation below...


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