SSM Health Medical Minute: Helping kids get enough sleep

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ST. LOUIS - Missing out on sleep can affect a child’s behavior, appetite, growth and even their performance in school. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to everyone at every point in life, but we are only now beginning to understand how important a factor sleep deprivation is, especially in kids. Kids who do not get enough sleep can struggle with ADHD and behavior problems.

But, Dr. Joseph Muenster, a pediatrician at SSM Health Medical Group says that kids need consistent bedtime routines to establish good sleeping habits. Creating a habit of a regular sleep schedule is critical starting in infancy. As kids get to be toddlers, making sure you set a rhythm as a family of the nighttime routine. Caregivers need to be a good role model as a whole family of going to bed at the same time every evening. And, parents can help their kids by ensuring they get enough exercise every day so that when nighttime arrives, they are ready for sleep.

If you are struggling to get your child to sleep at bedtime, it can be tempting to try sleep supplements like melatonin or sleepy time tea or weighted blankets.

Dr. Muenster says to focus on lifestyle changes before you try supplements or other items sold in stores that promise better sleep.

He says to start winding down about 30 minutes to an hour before bed. Avoid giving your children caffeine or sugar to close to the wind-down time. Try to create a calm environment before bed. Reading books, not looking at iPads or TVs. A warm bath can help. Take this time to recap the day, talk about what happened during the day. And, make sure all caregivers are on the same page of your routine. Having parents, grandparents, or babysitters a part of the same bedtime routine will give kids solid coaching for establishing bedtime habits.

Kids are smart, they like to hang out with their parents, so they will try to gain the system if they can. Bad sleeping habits are learned behavior, and caregivers can help their child focus on new habits, but it does take focus and work.

As far as Melatonin, Dr. Muenster says, “From the get-go, no. Melatonin is used a lot in kids and families. Most of the time, families are giving melatonin, because our routine isn’t consistent.” Make lifestyle changes such as a more balanced diet, exercise throughout the day and plenty of water. “Melatonin is a supplement, so you can’t guarantee the dose you are getting is exactly what they are getting.”

Studies have shown that weighted blankets do not provide an improvement in sleep or sleep patterns, but parents felt like they did see an improvement. So Dr. Muenster says it doesn’t hurt to try it.

If you think your child is not getting enough sleep due to a more serious condition such as sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs or chronic snoring, SSM Health offers pediatric sleep service.

Talk to your pediatrician about your sleep habits. If you are searching for a pediatrician, click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs every Wednesday at 7 PM on KPLR News 11 and at 9 PM on KTVI Fox 2 News.​

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