Could You Spot a Sleep Disorder?
As the research from Tel Aviv shows, parents may differ in their definition of what constitutes a sleep "problem". Some of these differences may be culturally-biased. For example, some parents do not consider an overly lengthy bedtime ritual and the need for parental presence at bedtime in young children to be problematic. "However, if these behaviors persist (and they often do), they may be much more difficult to eliminate once the child is older," according to Dr. Owens. "Parents also tend to see their child's behavior as routine because they've adapted to it, or they may be unwilling to label the behavior as problematic," says Dr. Owens. And as children reach school age, parents may simply be left in the dark about their kids' sleep problems because older children are less likely to alert their parents every time they wake up in the middle of the night.
Parents aren't the only ones who miss the problem, says Dr. Owens. She believes that many pediatricians tend not to encourage conversations about sleep problems with their patients' parents because they may not know how to help solve them. A number of studies backs this up: In a survey she conducted Of more than 600 pediatricians interviewed, only 25% said they felt comfortable diagnosing and treating sleep problems.
It's also difficult to identify kids as problem sleepers because they may act differently during the day than do adults, says Dr. Griebel. "While adults with sleep problems may appear exhausted, no self-respecting child wants to go to sleep during the day," she says, adding that once they're past the napping age, only those kids with serious disorders, such as narcolepsy, or the most severe levels of obstructed breathing, tend to nod off during the day or nap. Rather than give in to tiredness, the child will fight it, resulting in fidgeting, aggression, and an inability to concentrate or pay attention.
Experts agree that while there are different approaches to resolving sleep problems, one factor rises above the rest as a predictor of success: consistency. "A child's temperament is certainly key, but in the end it's really the family's commitment that can change his behavior," says Dr. Mindell. "If the parents follow through with their doctor's advice, consistently put it into practice, and place importance on it, things can definitely improve."
Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the October 2001 issue of Child magazine.Updated 2010
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