Sleepless in America

Almost one-third of children don't get enough sleep. And the more experts focus on the causes, the more they are finding that nighttime disturbances are linked to other childhood problems. Read on for the newest research breakthroughs and expert strategies to solve common bedtime battles.

Introduction

boy in bed

Almost all parents have concerns about their child's sleep habits --that's partly why there are more than 50 books in print on getting children to fall asleep. But here's a fact that'll wake you up: Though it's common for children to suffer from either insufficient or disrupted sleep, bedtime battles are not necessarily normal and children may not outgrow them. A small but growing body of research suggests that childhood sleep disturbances are associated with cognitive problems, irritability, moodiness, hyperactivity, oppositional behavior, and behavior that resembles Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, called ADD when hyperactivity is not involved). The encouraging news is that doctors are doing more than ever to unearth the causes and best treatments for sleep problems.

"Lately there's been a dramatic boom in pediatric sleep research," says Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night. In fact, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, recently set aside more than $4 million to fund research on sleep and sleep disorders in children. "It's become obvious how common sleep problems in children are and how important it is that we know what causes them and how to treat them," she says.

What's contributed to this need is the growing realization that some parents don't recognize that their children are suffering from poor sleep. A study conducted last year at Tel Aviv University in Israel found that although 18% of children were considered poor sleepers based on overnight sleep studies, their parents were not aware that their children were sleep-deprived.

In the meantime, doctors continue to uncover important -- and startling -- findings about the effects of poor sleep on children's health, development, and behavior.

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