Should We Be Worried About Our Children’s Sleep?
News In 2006, insufficient sleep in children was declared a public health concern by an international pediatric task force. Increasingly later bedtimes, with unchanged school start times, has led to a decrease in children’s total sleep duration.
Moreover, sleep problems are highly prevalent, with 25 percent of children experiencing sleep difficulties. This prevalence rate skyrockets up to 80 percent for children who have neurodevelopmental disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is mounting evidence suggesting dramatic negative consequences of inadequate sleep, including decreased physiological, cognitive, and emotional functioning, as well as decreased quality of life for children and their families.
Minor sleep deprivation, major consequences
A study conducted by my students, Jenn Vriend and Fiona Davidson, found that even a small reduction of sleep — one hour a night for four nights — was enough to change how the children thought, felt and behaved. Not only did parents report that their children were crankier, but tests showed that they had less positive emotional responses, more difficulties with attention, and weaker memory. Take these findings and multiply them for children who have chronic sleep restriction and it is clear that lack of sleep can affect children in many daily activities such as learning and interacting with their peers and family members.
"There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that we can help children learn to sleep better, but these interventions are not often shared with parents of tired children."
Better nights, better days
Given that we know that many children do not sleep enough and that lack of sleep results in negative impact on daytime behaviour, it would seem that treatments for sleep problems would be widely available. This is not the case.
There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that we can help children learn to sleep better, but these interventions are not often shared with parents of tired children. Our team is taking what we know works and putting it on the internet so that parents can have ready access to this information. This program, Better Nights Better Days (funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research), will be tested to see if parents can use it in a way that helps their children sleep better. If successful, we will be working on making this available to parents of sleepy children across Canada.