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Worried About Your Baby Not Sleeping Through the Night?

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

One of the first parenting pointers that new moms and dads usually ask about is related to their baby’s sleep patterns. How much sleep does your baby need, and at what age should they be sleeping through the night are probably the top two questions. The “gold standard” answer to the second question — when should they be sleeping all night — has been between the ages of 6 and 12 months, but researchers at McGill University say that standard may need revising.

Study authors suggested that “parents might benefit from more education about the normal development of — and wide variability in — infants’ sleep-wake cycles,” instead of stressing over how to train their babies to sleep longer.

The first thing to note here is that this was an observational study, meaning the researchers analyzed information they received from the parents of several hundred children, so it’s not exactly “science” in the real sense. It’s simply a report of what parents said. Another point is that the investigators’ conclusions had more to do with accepting your baby’s own sleep cycle than with establishing a sleep pattern.

To that end, maybe we do need a little reeducating, as I believe too many adults don’t quite understand just how important sleep is for children. The fact is children’s lack of sleep is a serious, hidden health crisis. And while researchers like those at McGill may say parents don’t need to worry if their infant doesn’t sleep through the night, there is a point where the worry should begin.

There are many reasons why older children — toddlers through teens — don’t sleep. Practical issues, such as not having regular bedtimes or bedtime routines can contribute to this immensely. Dietary issues are another concern, including excessive sugar consumption or intake of energy drinks that children may consume because they’re tired during the day. Both can interfere with getting a sound night’s sleep. This ties in with obesity, another factor that may be influenced by diet and which can significantly interfere with sleep.

Obesity may not be the first thing you think about when you’re trying to figure out why your child won’t sleep, but the fact is obesity can increase the risk of sleep apnea, which basically steals sleep from your child. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which causes the airway to become blocked during sleep, leading to reduced or blocked airflow.

If a child is obese, there’s extra stress put on the upper airway, which can cause it to collapse, leading to sleep apnea. Left untreated, pediatric sleep apnea can lead to behavior issues, cognitive dysfunction and inattentiveness and even heart disease later in life.

In fact, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, studies suggest as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

If you want to help guide your child to a better night’s rest, there are a few things you can do, including shutting down all electronics at least an hour and preferably more, before bedtime. Even doing homework too late at night may make it difficult for your child to fall asleep, so try to have any responsibilities wrapped up early so your child has time to unwind before bed.

Establish a routine that helps them get ready for bed; for example, younger children may “get the message” if you read to them at a certain hour every night. Installing blackout drapes in your child’s room can help too.

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