Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Can Sleep Be the Answer to Parenting Problems?

Many parent eventually reaches a point where they feel they need help. At this point many start with parenting websites and books. But new studies suggest a simple quick fix has again and again solved or greatly improved behavioral and school problems. And that simple fix is: sleep.

I can tell you first hand how much it actually will improve your life. My oldest had always been a difficult sleeper, but after sticking to a strict sleeping schedule I saw major improvements with in a couple of weeks. If you have a strong-willed child this is easier said than done but I promise that if you persist it will be worth it!

My first-born had always been difficult with an over all stubborn personality and had a very bad case of colic to boot. I was never really able to get her on a stable sleep schedule which in turn led to many sleepless nights for myself as well. Eventually her tantrums became a daily occurrence which only got worse once she started full-time kindergarten. She was having a hard time with her school work, homework became a daily battle, and she developed a hair-trigger temper.

Once I was able to get her to sleep (lights out for everyone was the only thing that ended up working) an additional 1 1/2 hours a day to a total sleep time of 12 1/2 hours. In a week all of her bad behavior lessened considerably. In two weeks we were able to get through homework easily and get her back up to grade level quickly. After two months most of the tantrums and issues were gone. Even I have seen improvement in myself with the additional sleep I've been getting.

Here's what the experts have to say:
Research of how much sleep children should get -
There is no magic number for how much sleep is needed since sleep requirements are individual. But here are the general recommended amount.

Newborns: 15-16 hours
1-12 months: 14-15 hours
1-3 years old: 12-14 hours
3-6 years old: 10-12 hours
7-12 years old: 10-11 hours
12-18 years old: 8-9 hours
19+ years old: 7-9 hours

What studies show could be the consequences of not getting enough sleep:
  • inhibit productivity
  • difficulty paying attention
  • reduce the ability to remember information
  • Greater chances of being involved in a car crash
  • Higher BMI due to increase appetite
  • Health problems such as diabetes, heart problems
  • Increase or worsen psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse
  • Worsen ADHD symptoms
  • Sleep deprivation can sometimes be mistaken with ADHD
  • While adults become sluggish when sleep deprived, children speed up

What can improve when you get enough sleep
  • Lessen ADHD Symptoms, one study found that symptoms were eliminated in some children
  • Improves your brain power
  • Clearer thinking
  • Helps keep your heart healthy
  • Reduces stress
  • More alert
  • Boost memory
  • Helps protein molecules make repairs in your body

Studies between children that get enough sleep vs those that don't

In 2006, one study observed that children 6-15 years old with sleep problems were more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and display defiant behaviors.
In one study done by UVA found that sleep deprived children are more likely to snore and toss in bed. Test scores were also worse compared to children who did get enough sleep. The level of impairment in sleep deprived children was comparable to children who had been exposed to lead.

Some scientist believe that sleep apnea as an infant or toddler significantly raised the chances of the child developing ADHD. Additionally, some believe that sleep disorders in young children may be a direct cause of some ADHD cases.

What parents should do:
consistent sleep schedules, even on weekends
keep sleep stealer's out of room (ex. TV, cell phones, computers,)
Finish eating 2-3 hours before bed time
establish a bedtime routine
avoid caffeine close to bedtime
make sleep a priority
talk to the child's pediatrician (under Dr supervision many parents have seen improvements with certain vitamins or a melatonin supplements.)

Conclusion/Personal Thoughts

The lack of sleep can become a vicious cycle. Sleep deprived children can still display symptoms well into the next day which can cause additional sleep problems. One thing that worked for me was the lights out method. This means that all lights, TVs, music players, computers, cell phones, EVERYTHING needs to be turned off and everybody needs to be in bed. If the child cries or complains, it's ok. I personally did not ignore my daughter when she cried but I also didn't turn on any lights or even say anything. I just sat down or laid down with her until she fell asleep. Eventually I was able to get to my bed faster each week.

Honestly, I did get resistance from my husband who was annoyed by it. But after much insistence (aka nagging) I got him on board. The temptation of a TV on in another room was too much for my daughter which caused her to stay up so there really was no room for negotiation.

I hope that this helps <3>
Resources/ Reccomondations:
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1690 (Additional links at the end of article)