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A Better Night’s Sleep For Your Child

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Kids need at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and some ages need as much as 12. If your child has trouble sleeping through the night, or getting to sleep, a new study says that sleep-related consultations with parents may be the key to helping their child get a better night’s rest.

Researchers found that when they had sleep-related consultations with parents, kids tended to have fewer sleep problems and better bedtime habits than children whose parents didn’t get counseled.

The study focused on the back-to-school time frame and included children who were going into first grade. The findings show that “sleep problems are common in young school children and are treatable using … a brief behavior- based intervention,” study author Jon Quach, from the University of Melbourne, told Reuters Health in an email. ”Parents should seek advice for their child’s sleep if they are concerned,” he added.

Quach and his colleagues surveyed about 1,500 parents of kids starting at 22 different elementary schools in Melbourne. Of these parents, 161 said their child had a moderate or severe sleeping problem and 108 were recruited for the study. Kids with more serious sleep-related breathing problems, for instance, were excluded.

Half of the participating parents had a private consultation at school, followed by a telephone call two weeks later, to discuss behavioral sleep strategies based on their kid’s specific issues. The other half weren’t offered any extra help.

Over the next year, the researchers surveyed parents again about their kids’ shut-eye. Six months after the initial consultation, they also gave all kids a learning assessment.

Sleep issues tended to resolve in both groups, the researchers reported in Pediatrics. Still, kids whose parents had sleep- related counseling generally did better.

After six months, 26 percent of kids in the consultation group and 47 percent in the no-consultation group still had moderate or severe sleep problems. By one year, however, there was no difference and about one-third of kids in both groups had sleep problems.

Kids in the consultation group had less resistance at bedtime and took less time to go to bed, according to their parents’ reports.

Quach and colleagues noted that the study was small and that a follow-up including more kids will be needed — including one that tracks students’ progress for more than a year.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, children who are 5-6 years old should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep per night. Researchers said that in 5 and 6 year-olds, most sleep problems are related to kids’ behavior. The transition between summer break and school can be kind of rough on youngsters who are used to staying up later, or who do not have a regular sleep routine. Also, some kids feel anxious about starting school and can have upsetting dreams.

If your little one needs help getting to sleep, there are some tried and true methods that can help.

Turn off the electronics: Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If your child has a TV in his or her bedroom, seriously consider moving it out. Research shows that kids who have a television in their bedrooms tend to sleep less.

Create a calming nighttime routine. Winding down each night with the same calm routine — bath, book, tooth brushing — signals that it’s time for sleep, especially for younger children and kids who have more than one home.

Be consistent with bedtime and rising time: Keep the same bedtime and rising routine on the weekends as you do during the week. Consistency helps good sleeping routines become a habit.

Promote physical activity and exercise. Kids who are more physically active during the day take less time to fall asleep, sleep longer, and seem to have a deeper sleep. In addition to exercise helping kids sleep better, sleep can decrease the risk of being overweight.

Establish a relaxed bedtime routine. The routine does not need to be elaborate; however, it should be something your child looks forward to each night and considers a special time. This can be as simple as reading a favorite book in a special part of the room, having a bath to soothing music, eating a snack and then brushing teeth, singing a favorite song, saying a prayer, exchanging highlights of the day, or even a special bedtime kiss-n-hug ritual.

A good night’s sleep can help your child think clearer, perform better in school, stay focused for longer periods of time, and can even help fend off bad moods!

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