Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Does the sandman still come to your house?

By R. Scott Benson, M.D.

Keeping children up at night?
Some worrisome stories were on the evening news last week; but the part of the news broadcast that caught my attention were six ads for medication to promote a peaceful night of sleep.

These ads are having their desired effect as I have more and more families expressing concern about their children’s sleep. They read the stories about shifting school start times to improve teens’ school performance, but the first question they ask me is usually about the latest new medications.

Research is clear: there are many things that should be done before we reflexively open the medicine cabinet.
  1. Consider the impact of 24-hour access to electronic communication tools. Does your child keep a cell phone in their room overnight? To talk to whom? 
  2. Remove televisions and computers from children’s bedrooms. There is strong evidence that easy access to these devices interferes with sleep.
  3. Watch out for shifts in sleep schedules on the weekend. Most of us thought we could stay up late on weekend nights, make up for the sleep by staying in bed until noon on Saturday, and sleep in again on Sunday. But it only takes these two days to reset your biologic clock. No wonder that Monday finds a body at school but the mind is home in bed.
  4. Plan evening routines so your child finishes activities (including homework) more than an hour before planned bedtime. It takes a while to settle after an hour of frustrating work on spelling words.
The first step in evaluating any concern about sleep is keeping a careful sleep diary. There are samples available at, the website of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The University of Michigan has a wealth of material on their website devoted to children’s sleep problems.

Sleep tight.

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