Children with sleep disorders may be moody, irritable or uncooperative. They may have difficulty concentrating, appear hyperactive and have poor grades. Sleep-deprived children may also seem clumsy or accident-prone. Chronic sleep deprivation may even be mistakenly diagnosed as an emotional or behavioral disorder.
Sleep deprivation in children is cause for concern and can lead to serious health conditions. Studies supported by the National Institutes of Health reveal correlations between sleep deprivation and/or poor quality sleep and hypertension, diabetes, obesity and depression. Insufficient sleep can impair our body’s ability to use insulin, which may lead to the onset of diabetes. Insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion. As the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the likelihood of weight gain increases.
Some of the most common sleep disorders include:
Some children may have fears about falling sleep. Youngsters are often afraid of the dark, monsters, ghosts and vicious animals; older children experience more realistic fears such as being harmed by natural disaster.
Circadian Rhythm Disturbances
Circadian rhythms are our body’s natural rhythms. They affect several biological and physiological systems such as sleep-wake patterns, body temperature and hormonal changes. Circadian rhythm cycles change naturally during puberty. Adolescents experience increased daytime sleepiness as well as a sleep-phase delay; that is, their “body clock” is set to fall asleep and wake later than usual – too late to get sufficient sleep for school. Teenagers need at least 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep each night, while the average adult needs seven to nine hours.
Insomnia occurs in approximately 23% of children. Children may have trouble falling asleep. They may wake repeatedly and have trouble falling back asleep. They may wake very early in the morning or feel sleepy during the day. Insomnia in children usually involves bad sleep habits such as fears about sleep, lack of a nighttime routine, a shifting sleep-wake schedule and napping during the day beyond what is developmentally appropriate.
The symptoms of narcolepsy may appear all at once or develop slowly over time. Symptoms usually begin a short time after puberty and include excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty staying awake. Individuals with this disorder often fall asleep in inappropriate places and at inappropriate times. Narcolepsy is thought to be a disorder of the part of the central nervous system that controls sleep and wakefulness and often runs in families. Treatment is available, but there is no cure.
Generally infrequent and mild in nature, parasomnias include a broad range of sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking, nightmare disorder and sleep terrors, which occur during sleep. Sleepwalkers may simply get out of bed while others may leave the house and walk outdoors. Sleepwalkers may speak, but usually the words are not intelligible. Twenty-five to 30 percent of children sleepwalk, most under age ten. Sleepwalking tends to decrease over time and rarely requires treatment.
Nightmare disorder is more common in children than in adults. It is estimated that 10–50% of children aged three to six suffer from nightmares that impair their sleep. Children wake anxious and fearful, sweating and with an increased heart rate. They can usually detail their dream and what was so frightening – a threat to security and safety or self-esteem.
Unlike nightmare disorder, children experiencing sleep terrors usually have no conscious awareness of the terror and cannot remember the nightmare upon awakening. Common are “blood-curdling” screams, rapid, heavy breathing, sweating, severe anxiety and, at times, violent behavior.
The underlying cause of a sleep disorder is rarely diagnosed. Most children outgrow sleep disorders. In some instances, stress or anxiety may be the cause and in such instances yoga may be advisable. Medications for sleep disorders are generally not recommended for use by children and are prescribed as a last resort. Behavior modification is the most popular form of treatment. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is supporting a clinical trial by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment for insomnia in adults. NCCAM believes the trial’s findings will determine that relaxation and meditation techniques alleviate stress and encourage a greater sense of well-being.
For A Better Night’s Sleep...
• Follow a regular sleep schedule. Put your child to bed and wake her up at the same times, even on weekends.
• Slow down and relax. Practice a pre-bedtime ritual or establish a nighttime routine.
• Be sure your child is getting enough exercise and at regular times every day.
• Limit fluid intake and avoid caffeinated sodas and beverages late in the day.
• Be sure your child gets a bit of natural, outdoor light each day.
• Create a safe, quiet and comfortable place for your child to sleep.
• Children with nightmare disorders may benefit from limits on violent and frightening television programs or movies.Consider including the following meditation as part of your child’s nighttime routine:
You Are a Star
On a dark and clear night, you can see 1,000-1,500 beautiful, bright stars. With binoculars or a powerful telescope, you could see many thousands more. Too many stars to count.
There are several different kinds of stars in the sky. Even though each individual star is unique, all stars share much in common – just like you and I, your family and friends.
1. It’s time to rest. Lie down. Close your eyes and count ten slow breaths.
2. See a big, bright star overhead. What color is it? Red? Yellow? Blue? White? Is it your favorite color? It may be any color that you like. It twinkles. Stars come in many different colors, and even ages. Each star is unique. Just like you. You are a star, brilliant and luminous.
3. Reach your arms out to the sides. Stretch your legs wide. Your head, your two arms and your two legs make up the five points of a star. Stars come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are very big, 100 to 200 times bigger than the sun. You are made of the same stuff as stars: from the calcium in your bones to the zinc in your hair to the carbon and oxygen in between. In fact, the matter contained in your body has been part of at least one star. You are a star, brilliant and luminous.
4. Open your ears. Do you hear that? There’s a knock on the door to your heart. It’s starlight. The light from this star has traveled a great distance to reach you.
5. Open the door and feel its glow filling your heart. It’s warm. Wiggle your toes and feel the pure light of the star move into your belly and down through your legs to your toes. As it does, your legs and feet and toes relax. Wiggle your fingers and feel its pure light move up into your shoulders, feel your shoulders soften. The light is moving down your arms, feel your arms, hands and fingers relax too. Your body is now still.
6. Wiggle your nose and move its light into your face. The light is filling your cheeks. Wiggle your nose till the light touches the crown of your head. With your eyes closed, looking within, you can see the light within you.
7. Feel the starlight from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. It makes you feel safe and protected.
8. Say to yourself, “I am a star, brilliant and luminous."