Are Sleep Problems Part of the Problem?
Sleep disorders have been linked to many different health problems in children such as obesity, cognitive and memory problems, and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. The growing number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD) and autism has increased the number of sleep studies performed each year. Seeing that as many as three-fourths of children with psychiatric or neurological issues have insomnia, this increased interest in sleep studies makes sense.
Another contributing factor to this new focus on sleep studies is the fact that many of the symptoms of ADHD are remarkably similar to sleep deprivation. Children who don’t get enough sleep tend to be inattentive, irritable and easily distracted, all hallmarks of a child suffering from ADHD. Many parents and teachers will point out how quick some health professionals are to diagnose a child with ADHD, but perhaps this renewed interest in sleep studies may change that. Perhaps they will find that many hyperactive, inattentive children or even children with minor learning disabilities actually have issues that prevent them from getting enough sleep.
A typical sleep study costs between $2,000 and $5,000, although in some cases, most of that may be covered by health insurance. The most common problems faced by children with sleep difficulties are an inability to fall asleep and the inability to stay asleep through the night. Sleep apnea – which affects between one and three percent of children – is also a growing concern. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids, or other anatomical problems usually cause this condition, however obesity can also be a risk factor. Sleep studies can also help diagnose parasomnias such as sleepwalking and night terrors as well as restless leg syndrome, a neurological condition that often disturbs an individual’s sleep.
As useful as sleep studies have proven to be, not every child who has had trouble sleeping requires these tests. Many children don’t get enough sleep because of behavioral issues. They consume too much caffeine (in sodas), watch television too close to their bedtime or suffer from anxiety; all problems that can be addressed without an expensive sleep study. They may simply lack a quiet, dark space and comfortable bed, which can be environmental contributors to sleep difficulties. They need time to settle down after stimulating activities and may respond well to bedtime rituals that are soothing and consistent and promote calmness and a sense of safety. Finally, as with adults with insomnia, children may need to establish a consistent routine for improving their sleep habits, which once established, is maintained[i].
A Final Note:
At Stanfield we know that all children are different and the range of their sleep problems vary. Sleep is obviously, and indisputably, important to one’s wellbeing, and this may be especially so for a child with special needs. We realize that a child with special needs or with ADHD-like symptoms won’t be cured with plenty of rest, however a lack of sleep is guaranteed to exacerbate his or her problems. We recommend that parents speak with their child’s health care providers about how their child (and they) can improve their sleep, thereby improving daytime functioning a well. Teachers can advise parents of children whose daytime sleepiness appears excessive to look into this problem as well. Costly sleep studies may be the ultimate diagnostic tool in difficult cases, yet there are many intermediate steps that can reduce sleep problems and benefit the entire family. See Web MD’s tips for improving your family’s sleep: www.webmd.com/parenting/features/good-nights-sleep
Copyright 2013 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.
[i] Adapted from: Petersen, Andrea. “More Children With Sleep Problems Seek Overnight Tests.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 May 2013.
Tags: ADHD, autism, health issues, parenting