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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 12:01 am

No zombie children!

Good sleep is essential for growing kids

Solid sleep can prevent behavior issues and problems at school.
Photo by Jason Johnson


Experts advise caution: sleep is not a luxury; it’s a necessity for good health. It’s no secret that the sleep debt is growing like the national debt in American adults. Studies show that our children are walking in our sleepy footsteps, and it’s affecting their health.

Anwar Shafi, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at SIU School of Medicine, is working with families to help their children sleep easier and stay healthier. He is the only pediatrician in the region who is board certified in sleep medicine to evaluate and treat children with various sleep disorders and to interpret their sleep studies. He’s on a mission to get them back to a better night’s rest. Here Dr. Shafi offers guidance on this important health topic.

Anwar Shafi, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at SIU School of Medicine
Photo by Jason Johnson
What are some telltale signs that a child or teen isn’t getting enough sleep?

The symptoms of sleep deficiency can manifest differently in children than in adults. It makes sense that daytime sleepiness or falling asleep in school can indicate sleep deprivation. But the converse can also be true. Typically, sleep-deprived children become hyperactive during the day and have problems with concentration and managing emotions.

It’s sometimes hard to tell if tiredness is causing problematic behavior or the other way around. Some children who have been diagnosed with ADHD actually have sleep apnea. Addressing the sleep apnea can sometimes decrease the behavior concerns.

But if you flip the coin, children with behavior issues may have sleep problems. For example, medications used for behavior problems can interfere with sleep. Psychological issues or stress can also interfere with sleep. A physician can help figure out which is driving the other through a thorough examination and a sleep study.

What health issues are caused by a lack of sleep?

Lack of sleep has been linked to many health problems, including obesity, heart disease, heart failure, depression, ADHD, diabetes and high blood pressure.

How else can a lack of sleep affect children and adolescents?

Like sleepy adults, sleepy children have a harder time concentrating and learning. This can lead to taking longer to complete schoolwork, more frequent mistakes or trouble making decisions.

Sleep problems are family problems. A child who wakes in the night is likely to head to the parents’ room. The parent comforts the child and tries to go back to sleep. In some families, the process could be long enough that the parent has trouble falling back to sleep. Then everyone is tired and likely grumpy.

What are some of the medical reasons children aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep?

Physical or neurological issues can lead to nighttime disruptions that don’t allow the child a full night of rest. The most common issue I see is sleep apnea. Other common sleep disorders among children include night terrors, sleep talking, sleep walking and periodic limb movement disorder.

Does environment or behavior play a role in sleep?

Definitely. Today’s children and adolescents are growing up in a world where stimulation doesn’t stop once the sun goes down. For adolescents especially, the most common culprit of stimulation is the screen. Electronic devices actually have detrimental effects on sleep in two ways. First, your mind is actively engaged in what you’re doing, like checking email or playing a game. Second, these screens emit light, which alters the circadian rhythm that is responsible for helping us sleep.

How can parents help?

Stick to a consistent bedtime schedule, even on the weekends. Screens should be off at least an hour before bed. Keep the lights dim too. Remove all devices from the room: no TV, tablet, computer or phone. The bedroom should be for sleeping, not all these other activities like watching TV.

Talk with your pediatrician about your children’s sleep habits. Better sleep benefits the health of children and the entire family.

Rebecca Budde is a former publications editor and current development officer at SIU Medicine. She loves to sleep (but not on the job).

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