Sleep problems in children: Top tips from a sleep doctor

Believe it or not, there are many different types of sleep disorders in children, including insom

Believe it or not, there are many different types of sleep disorders in children, including insomnia (not sleeping enough), hypersomnia (sleeping too much) and parasomnias (odd behaviours during sleep). Many are unique to each child and some can even be the result of efforts made by the parents - with the best intentions - which can end up reinforcing the sleep issues. Problems sleeping can also result from irritating skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis or eczema.

 

Sleep problems in children: Top tips from a sleep doctor
Sleep problems in children: Top tips from a sleep doctor

Here top child sleep expert Dr. Sarah Bursaux explains why sleep problems occur and gives her advice on smart sleep behaviours.      

 

1

WHAT IS A SLEEP DISORDER EXACTLY?

WHICH SLEEP DISORDER DOES MY CHILD HAVE?

 

A sleep disorder simply means any disturbance of the duration or quality of sleep. It can mean difficulty falling and staying asleep, but can also include sleeping and not waking up feeling refreshed.

                                        

2

WHAT CAUSES SLEEP PROBLEMS IN CHILDREN?

WHY CAN’T MY CHILD GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP?

“Sleep loss can be because of patterns of behaviour within the family unit. Bad habits – which can stem from the best intentions! - simply ‘rub off’ on the child. It’s all to do with the way which children learn sleep behaviours, often from their parents. Many factors are involved, but it’s easy to get into a toxic routine. Moreover, if the parents are anxious about sleep, the child often will be too. That’s why it’s my job to coach both the child and the parent on how to get a good night’s sleep!”

“Sleep disorders can be linked to allergies, sleep apnoea syndrome, colic, coughs and colds, otitis or skin pathologies such as atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis or eczema will often keep the child awake. For example, when a child with eczema reaches the end of his sleep cycle, he or she may wake up and start to scratch.”

 

3

ATOPIC DERMATITIS AND SLEEP

ITCHINESS IS STOPPING YOUR CHILD FROM SLEEPING

Many parents are unaware of the impact of atopic dermatitis (eczema) on sleep. But the fact is that sleep disturbance is one of the most common problems in children with eczema.

STRESS, ECZEMA AND SLEEP

Stress can set off a vicious cycle in children with atopic dermatitis. The more stressed they are, the more their eczema flares up and the more they itch, making it more difficult for them to get a proper night’s sleep. This makes them more stressed… and so the cycle continues.1

 

4

HOW CAN SLEEP LOSS AFFECT MY CHILD?

WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THEIR EVERYDAY LIFE?

Sleep loss in infants and young children can affect their health and wellbeing as well as their school performance. Recent studies have shown that children with irregular bedtimes up to age three performed less well in maths, reading, spatial awareness and language. In addition, those who regularly got less than 10 hours’ sleep a night were more at risk of developing ADHD.2

 

“Sleep loss can have all sorts of effects on children: loss of appetite, restlessness, sleepiness, crying and anxiety about going to sleep.

With children with atopic dermatitis or eczema, it can make them more susceptible to infections and more sensitive to pain. It can impair their cognitive ability and disrupt their behaviour, leading to concentration difficulties and emotional problems.

Moreover, sleep loss in children does not only affect the child: It affects the whole family, often causing anxiety in parents and tensions with siblings.”

 

5

WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO GET YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP?

 

Child sleep expert Dr. Sarah Bursaux talks about some of the crazy things parents have done to get their child to sleep.

“Sleep disorders have such an impact on the child and family that parents are willing to try just about anything - I’ve seen it all!

One couple had shifted their child’s bedtime to late at night. They would give him his supper at 10 pm and bathe him at midnight!

Other parents I saw, would drive round and round a ring road until their child finally fell asleep.

Yet another family switched around all the rooms in the house to accommodate the child with the sleep problem. The father slept in the living room, the sleepless child slept with her mother in the parents’ bed and the sibling in another room.”

It's clear that childhood sleep problems can have a huge impact on the whole family. Read on for Dr. Bursaux’s insights about managing sleep disorders and her 10 top tips to get your child to sleep, without resorting to craziness!

 

6

HOW TO MANAGE CHILDHOOD SLEEP DISORDERS

“Almost all sleep disturbances can be managed by a general practitioner, paediatrician or a paediatric psychiatrist, but the key  people are the parents. Often, problems that initially appeared impossible to solve, can be overcome in two or three sessions.”

 

During the first, longer session, the healthcare professional takes the time to listen to the parents and the child’s story. He/she tries to understand the roots of the sleep disturbance and its main issues.

The professional will spend the next 1-2 sessions explaining what normal sleep is and propose new ways of dealing with the child’s sleep disorder without prescribing sedatives or hypnotics (sleeping pills).

 

Learn more about dry, eczema-prone skin.

 

1https://nationaleczema.org/helping-your-child-with-eczema-sleep/

2 https://www.scratchsleeves.co.uk/importance-of-sleep-eczema-babies-toddlers/

 

 

 

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