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A Lack Of Sleep Can Have Lasting Effects On Children

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DURHAM — Bedtime can be a battle between children and their parents, but it does not have to be. In fact, it is important for your child's health to get a good night's sleep.

A child who sleeps soundly through the night is every parent's dream. However, getting to that point can be a nightmare. Some children just do not want to go to bed.

While that is not usually the case for the Saunders family of Durham, bedtime can still be an ordeal.

Bill and Maria Saunders have a blended family of five children ages 5 to 9. In their house, no matter the age, it is lights out by 9 p.m. at the latest.

Of course, going to bed does


always mean going to sleep.

"Every third night, one or two of the five might come down and need a drink," said Bill.

Maria added that "Every once in a while, one [child] needs an extra hug."

Dr. Richard Kravitz, a Duke pediatrician, said that is normal behavior, but not when it happens night after night.

When their children do not get enough sleep, the Saunders find it easy to notice the effects.

"Usually, late in the day, after not having a good night's sleep, it's harder to get them engaged into the routine of getting back to bed even though you'd think it would be easier because they'd be worn out. But they're kind of just cranky," said Bill.

"Then homework becomes more difficult, everything is a little more challenging," said Maria.

According to experts, a chronic lack of sleep can lead to real problems, like not being able to concentrate in school, hyperactivity and even stunting a child's growth.

"It's one of the causes, believe it or not, of short stature," said Kravitz. "Kids who aren't growing well, it's not just growth hormone deficiency, but poor sleep. Because growth hormone is released while you sleep."

So how much sleep does a child need?

  • On average, a 5-year-old should get about 10 hours a night.
  • By age 8 or 9, a child needs about nine hours of sleep.
  • By the time a child is a teenager, the amount of sleep goes up again to 12 to 15 hours a night.
  • "Every child normally wants to stay up. They want to have fun [because] that's when all the action is. That's normal behavior for kids, but you also, as parents, have to set limits," said Kravitz.

    For the Saunders, keeping a routine is key to making sure bedtime is not a battle.

    Kravitz suggests the following tips to make falling asleep easier for children:

  • Turn off the television
  • Dim the lights
  • Calm children down about 15 minutes before bedtime
  • Make sure night clothes and the temperature of their room are comfortable.
  • Keep bed time consistent
  • "I think it's important to get into good early sleep habits. These are habits that you can learn that you can carry with you for a lifetime," said Kravitz.

    For parents who have tried all of the tricks, but are still having problems getting their child to sleep, it is possible he or she may have a sleep disorder.

    A recent study done at Brown University showed 37 percent of children in kindergarten through fourth grade suffer through sleep-related problems.

    Kravitz suggests parents ask the following questions to help pinpoint the problem:

  • First, is the child getting enough hours in bed?
  • Is the child getting up several times during the night?
  • Is the child snoring or gasping for air?
  • The study found that 10 percent of children have a snoring problem which leads to arousals during the night and they have trouble falling back to sleep.


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