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Mommy, I Can?t Sleep! Sleep Disturbance in Children

"Just turn the lights off and go to sleep"

Do you find yourself saying this to your child? Well, you're not alone!! Sleep problems are some of the most common problems parents face with their children. Some parents struggle with getting their child to sleep through the night. New parents worry about how to help their child learn good sleep habits that last a lifetime. And still others wonder if their child's sleep difficulties are chronic and are concerned that their child may be going through their days sleep-deprived.

Studies reveal that a significant number of children have some form of a sleep disturbance. Sleep disturbances among children and adolescents are common. Prolonged changes in sleep patterns, if left untreated, can result in significant emotional, behavioral, and cognitive impairment and can put your child at risk for poor school performance, accidents, and social or medical problems. The key is to identify changes in sleep, and to know when to seek assistance.

Sleep disturbance can take several forms including:

? difficulty falling asleep
? trouble staying asleep
? frequently awakening

There also are other variations of sleep issues known as parasomnias, e.g., night terrors or sleepwalking.

To alleviate your child's sleep disturbance, try these simple steps:

? Keep bedtime at the same time each night: This helps your child establish a structure and enforces a predictable routine.

? Monitor unnecessary environmental stimuli: Minimize the light and noise in the child's bedroom (music, lights)

? Encourage pre-bedtime relaxation: Children respond well to activities that allow them to wind down such as a warm bath, massage or aromatherapy

? Share some activity: Dedicate time to reading a bedtime story or talking about your child's day and encouraging meditation and reflection

? Plan the transition: Ease the child into new processes by discussing changes and comforting their transition into healthy sleep habits

Sleep in its natural form is the only way our bodies can re-charge. Beyond resting, sleep serves many functions including memory preservation. If your child is not receiving the quality and quantity of sleep that is required (typically 8-12 hours each night is optimal), the toll can be enormous. Performance in school, interacting with others and activities of daily living may diminish in quality. The origins of a sleep disturbance may range from anxiety tied to emotional conflicts, such as fear of an upcoming test or excitement over a speaking part in the school play, to medical issues such as apnea. It is important that the underlying issue be addressed, no matter the source, to resolve the sleep disturbance and give your child their best shot at life.

Remember always to take into account where your child is in their developmental stage, because some sleep issues are age-appropriate. If you have exhausted the suggestions listed above, then possibly the need for professional intervention is warranted. You are the expert when it comes to your child and their sleep patterns. If you have a concern, trust your instinct and seek professional advice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Charles Sophy currently serves as Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of nearly 40,000 foster children. He also has a private psychiatry practice in Beverly Hills, California. Dr. Sophy has lectured extensively and is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles Neuro-Psychiatric Institute. His lectures and teachings are consistently ranked as among the best by those in attendance.

Dr. Charles Sophy, author of the "Keep 'Em Off My Couch" blog, provides real simple answers for solving life's biggest problems. He specializes in improving the mental health of children. To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at http://drsophy.com

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