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Studies released at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies this week highlight the links between poor sleep and a host of health problems, including poor eye co-ordination behind the wheel and higher fast-food consumption. Several studies focused on sleep problems among children and the negative health consequences they face when they sleep poorly.

What can happen to children who sleep poorly?

According to a study of 218 Grades 2 and 3 students, those with symptoms of sleep disorders are more likely to receive poor grades in math, reading and writing than their peers who sleep well.

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Another study showed that children from a lower socioeconomic environment have worse sleeping patterns than children from middle- class families.

Healthy children from a lower socioeconomic class were more likely to display bedtime resistance, delay in sleep onset, shorter sleep duration, more sleep anxiety and night awakenings, sleep-disordered breathing and daytime sleepiness.

According to one study, breastfeeding protects against a sleep-related breathing disorder. What is this disorder and how does nursing help?

Childhood sleep-related breathing disorders are present in more than 10 per cent of children and occur when the airway is partly blocked during sleep. The most common example is snoring and the most severe is obstructive sleep apnea, which is found in 1 to 2 per cent of children. The condition can cause negative effects on a child's cognitive development, behaviour and quality of life. It has been shown that children who are breastfed for at least two months as infants have lower rates of the sleep disorder and if they do have it, it's less severe. Breastfeeding for longer than two months provides additional benefits for reducing the severity of the disorder.

How can I tell if my child has a sleep disorder?

According to Timothy Hoban of the Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Disorder Laboratory at the University of Michigan, many of the features of sleep-related disorders in children are the same as in adults. The most common symptoms include snoring, mouth breathing and excessive sweating. Children with sleep-related disorders often complain of a sore throat or headache. Unlike adults, who are often drowsy during the day, children usually don't complain of being sleepy, but might fall asleep when in a car or sitting quietly at an activity.

How many hours of sleep should our children be getting and what tips are there to make that happen?

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Experts suggest that preschool-age children get 11 to 13 hours of sleep each night, while school-age children get 10 to 11 hours. Tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to help kids achieve this goal include:

Follow the same bedtime routine.

Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.

Consistently get a full night's sleep.

Avoid foods and drink with caffeine.

Avoid any medicines with a stimulant, such as a decongestant, at bedtime.

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Don't eat a big meal before bedtime, but don't go to bed hungry either.

Keep the bedroom dark and cool.

Get up at the same time every morning.


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