Troubled Sleep in Children with Specific Learning Needs by Dyslexia Dublin CETC © 2014
A sleep disorder can be temporary or more long term/habitual. This can be known as somnipathy, which is a medical disorder that affects our sleep patterns.
Disturbed sleep can cause the same problems if it persists and this can lead to somnipathy and it may be severe enough to interfere with a person’s normal physical, mental and emotional functioning! Meltdowns/tantrums could well be the result of lack of sleep.
There are very strong links between childhood sleep disorders and behaviour, lack of concentration and mood swings. Sleep disorders that are directly caused by behavioural factors (eg. sleep-onset association disorder) can present in some children with specific learning needs. Invariably, sleep deprivation increases the chances of meltdowns and this can have a significant impact on families.
Some sleep disorders are serious enough and known to interfere with physical, mental and emotional routines. In cases that are causing noticeable problems, a sleep study/test (Polysomnography Test) can be recommended by your GP/Consultant.
Insomnia can also cause problems, due to falling asleep at times when you are relaxed (symptoms need to go beyond 4 weeks before the GP will intervene) and then at the allotted time you cannot sleep due to things flooding the mind. This, however, is more apparent in adults.
What is a reasonable amount of sleep required to carry out normal routines in childhood? Children of 5–13 years require about 10 hours sleep, and those aged 14–18 years need about 8 hours. These levels are the minimum required and if involved in physical exercise, they should take more rest.
The amount of sleep a person needs will vary from individual to individual, but most people require around eight hours.
We don’t fully understand how we came to require around seven to eight hours of rest per night (just to add, catching up is a bit of a fallacy). It is thought by many professionals in this field that it is down to build, muscle size and fat stores. We tend to go into partial hibernation in the winter months and spend longer sleeping. A lot takes place in these hours of rest, children’s growth hormones become very active, as do our repair and replenishment function (skin replacement and general healing).
So, what causes our sleep to be disturbed? Not winding down is one and this can be caused by the run up to bed time…home work should be well finished by tea time, any revision after this point will lead to the mind being occupied and the chance of a good night’s rest will be compromised, making the following day more challenging.
SPD (teeth grinding) is another possibility, along with dehydration and lack of air…many children with dyspraxia tend to breathe through their mouths which dries the mouth out and can also cause snoring. This may also result in headaches (drink a good few glasses of water a day).
Sugar is another cause of hyper activity and lack of sleep. Caffeine (stimulants) should not be consumed after 17.00.
Children, like adults, need to unwind and creating a relaxed, noise free atmosphere is a must. Let them chat about their day and also encourage them to keep a reflective diary, as this will dump information into their long term memory. Try to avoid giving them information about special occasions until the day…how many children have trouble sleeping before a birthday or Christmas?!
Sleep could be, and often is, thrown out of sync due to lack of a stable routine and the body clock being altered through certain habits, such as allowing a child to routinely fall asleep watching telly during the day (with exceptions like illness). For example, a parent might be working night shifts and nods off and the child relaxes and does likewise (eg. on the couch with the parent). Also, getting up late in the day becomes self-perpetuating, this will lead to difficulties in getting to wind down and sleep in the evening or can even cause problems due to being in a light sleep and waking during the night. Even during school holidays the routine should still be in place, stability and regularity are one thing that are needed to correct and maintain good sleep patterns.
By around the age of two, if a child wakes in the night it should have the ability to be self-soothing and able to settle again. Separation anxiety can also lead to sleep disorders and it is always a good idea not to share your child’s bed or let them share yours. You can wean a child off this and one good way is to substitute you with a favourite teddy or doll…allow the surrogate to share the meal table, watch TV with you and even go out on family trips. A trust will build very quickly and when the child has to separate from you for socialising or sleep, it will bring a great feeling of security. This will also help with children that have recurring bad dreams…it’s no harm to record dates and details of the bad dreams or broken sleep patterns and try to identify triggers or see if a pattern emerges…watching adult TV/movies is a big factor.
All this has a knock-on effect on the ability to maintain concentration and discipline during school time…this is something the school might not pick up on as they may only notice lethargy or bad behaviour and not lack of sleep.
Teenagers have a greater problem in this area and their lifestyle so often exacerbates poor sleep routines. Social networking means that teens can communicate with their friends well into the night and many would never see this as the cause of their lack of motivation during school times and even the weekends.
The problems tend to increase in the summer due to the bright evenings and increased noise which travels greater distances through the thinner air.
Conditions have to be right for all children to sleep… young children don’t have the ability to regulate temperature until they are around eight years of age, so room/body temperature can be a problem.
Maintain a good sleep routine, even during holidays.
Keep your children hydrated during the day and reduce sugars and caffeines.
Make sure the bedroom has plenty of air and is noise free.
Use blackout curtains and, if needs be, acquire a soothing night light.
Wind your children down…don’t let them play with gaming machines just before bed.
Avoid homework in the evening, this should all be finished by tea time.
If they are young, read a story and one that will relax them.
Don’t share their bed, sit on the edge or in a chair.
You can also use specialist relaxation CD’s.
Record disturbed sleep patterns and try to see if there is a trigger.
Don’t let them share your bed…if they can’t settle, stay in their room until they do.
If you want to reduce tantrums/meltdowns, etc. persevere and they will very soon get back into a settled sleep pattern.
Don’t be fooled by a child that has his or her eyes shut, they could be sat up the second they think the coast is clear!
Sleep is vital for restoring mental energy. We spend all day learning, thinking and creating, this all helps to deplete our energy reserves. And during our hours of sleep we process this information, for the most part in a harmless way (dreams) and sometimes the opposite…(nightmares).
You and your children’s bodies are like a well-oiled machine and rest is required by each and every one of us. We don’t know for sure exactly how much sleep we all need, but we sure know the consequences if we, or our children, have too little.
This article was written for guidance purpose only and, as with all things that cause concern professional advice should always be sought.