Can sleep affect your child with special needs? Or you?

dad-and-daughter-asleep

Quick answer…YES. Sleep is more than, well, sleep. It is restorative and essential to a healthy life. It is as important as water, food and air. For a child with special needs, it can make the difference between an “okay day” and a horrible one.

What does sleep do for your child?

A study in Pediatrics revealed that “Children with non-regular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties…Having regular bedtimes during early childhood is an important influence on children’s behavior.”

Non-regular bedtimes can disrupt your child’s behavior because it interferes with a body’s circadian rhythms (sleep cycle). It may also result in sleep deprivation, which may then negatively affect the part of the brain responsible for regulating behaviors. But, when children with non-regular bedtimes changed to regular bedtimes, parents reported positive changes in their behaviors. (Yay!)

Sleep also helps a person…

• get to and maintain a healthy weight

• stay healthy (you get sick less frequently)

• grow (if you are a baby, child or teen)

• lower your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes

• boost your mood

• think clearly, be more focused, and sharp

All of these benefits will allow your child to feel happier, do better at school, avoid injuries and be at his best – and that includes being better behaved.

For adults, the benefits are the same, making you more efficient at work, more energetic, less likely to make mistakes, and able to maintain a positive outlook. It also helps you to maintain patience – something needed when you are dealing with babies, children or teenagers, with or without special needs.

How much sleep do you really need?

• newborns need 16 -18 hours of sleep each day

• preschoolers need 11-12 hours per day

• school-aged kids need at least 10 hours

• teens need at least 9 hours of sleep each night

• adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep each night (some people need more, some less).

Note the words “at least,” as there are many kids who need much more sleep in order to function properly, depending on their lifestyle and medical condition.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?tired-family-in-car3

Children and teens need sleep to help their bodies grow. Cells regenerate at night during sleep. By not getting enough sleep, the hormone balance in a child will be thrown off. Without adequate sleep, a child’s immune system will have a harder time fighting off germs and diseases.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your “sleep debt” will increase to a point when you will need to make up for the lost sleep. If you do not get the sleep you need, your body won’t operate as it should. Your judgment and reaction times will be negatively affected. This can be dangerous for adults, especially if you are caring for an infant or child, or you are driving a car. Lack of sleep and driving is risky – it is as dangerous a combination as drinking alcohol and driving!

Where can you get more info?

For information on how to get a restful night’s sleep, sleep tips for children and adults, and when to see a doctor regarding possible sleep problems, see this handy guide.

If you are pregnant, you may have trouble finding a comfortable sleep position. Try sleeping on your left side with a pillow between your legs. Here are other tips.

Bottom line

Sleep is not a luxury; it is a necessity. By keeping a regular bedtime, your child’s health and behaviors may improve. Think of sleep as an essential nutrient (like a vitamin). Then, you may be able to make sleep one of the priorities in your life.

If you and your little one get the sleep you need, you will see and feel a positive difference.

Have questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org

For additional information on parenting a child with special needs, see our series on Delays and Disabilities.

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