What to look for if you suspect your child is having trouble sleeping

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When you think of sleep disorders, it's common to think of adults, but experts say children can have difficulties sleeping too.

FOX4 sat down with a child sleep specialist to find out how much sleep children actually need, and when parents should reach out to a doctor for help.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends children get anywhere between 11 to 18 hours of sleep depending on their age. Teens need at least eight and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep.

How much sleep do we really need?

Dr. David Ingram says those times represent a wide range of needs.

“I often liken it to your shoe size," Ingram said. "The way that you know it’s the right size is it feels right-- it’s comfortable. Things are going well, and the same is for your sleep duration as well.”

Sleepiness looks different in kids

Ingram said sleepiness looks different in children than adults. Adults drag and struggle to keep their eyes open, but experts say kids can be the exact opposite.

“Kids sometimes, especially younger kids can sometimes look the opposite," Ingram said. "Be hyperactive, have difficulty concentrating, be bouncing off the walls. So sleepiness can be a little bit challenging in kids.”

If this sounds like your child on a regular basis, sleep experts suggest that you talk to your pediatrician. Doctors say is not uncommon for a child to have issues with sleep.

What treatment is available

Ingram said if a doctors notices a child has sleep apnea, they'll usually start with taking their tonsils and adenoids out

“That’s usually the first step because those can become enlarged and obstruct the airway and cause the obstruction causing the sleep apnea,”Ingram said.

If your child has sleep problems not related to sleep apnea- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a good option. That’s when a child sleep psychologist works with children to change their mindset regarding sleep.

Experts say for teens, stress may be impacting their ability to get quality sleep. CBT will help them figure out how to deal with that stress to allow them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

“If a teen is very anxious and thinking about things while they’re trying to fall asleep- we’ll have them outside their bedroom write all those things down that are going through their head,” Ingram said.

What you can do as a parent

If this sounds like your teen  experts suggest that parents keep them from just sleeping in on the weekends because they say playing catch up a couple of days a week does not work.

Sleep experts say toddlers and babies are vastly different from teenagers, though. Healthy toddlers, who don’t have a sleep disorder, for example may just want to be part of the fun.

“Many times it’s bedtime resistance right?" Ingram asked. " The toddler knows that even though you’re trying to get them to go to bed, everybody else isn’t going to bed.”

Ingram suggests coming up with behavioral interventions to help that child have a positive reward for getting in bed and staying in bed throughout the night.

When it comes to babies, Ingram said there is a  whole different set of issues.

“None of them are easy, and there’s probably going to be crying with any of them,” Ingram said.

He added that you can start sleep training between four and six months old – after getting the go-ahead from your pediatrician. He said the biggest factor in sleep training is helping your baby learn how to fall asleep on their own.

“The so-called cry it out method is one way to do -- that works the fastest," Ingram said. "But it’s hard to sit there and listen to your kid cry- I don’t know if I could do it-- well, I couldn’t do it.”

Consistency is key

Ingram said parents must stick to their methods to make them work.

“For these things to be effective you have to stick to your guns and be consistent so if you’re gonna throw in the towel I’d do it immediately instead of sticking with it, sticking with it and then throwing in the towel because that can make things worse.”

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