Sleep — key to behavior

Sleep like a ...sea lion? (R. Brockman, 07/2011, Galapagos)

Sleep. I get calls every day about sleep problems. And for good reason; unregulated sleep often goes hand- in -hand with behavior problems.

Sometimes it is hard to know which came first.  The upset and angry teen may not be able to settle down and self- soothe enough to get to sleep, the depressed child may naturally have a poor sleep cycle, and the youngster on medication for ADHD may not sleep well because of medication side effects. But even if we do not know the “chicken or egg” answer (which came first?) we do know that establishing and maintaining a consistent sleep and awake pattern helps almost every behavior and emotional problem.

But how can we get a child or teen to adopt such a pattern?  Not easily!  Here are some ideas – these won’t fit or work for every sleep disordered youth, but the basic idea works for most.

1. Get electronics (other than a basic radio) out of the room.  No cell phone, TV, computer, game system.  Consider having books and maybe soothing music available.

This is sometimes the most difficult step and is easiest if established at a young age.  But even for older teens it is doable if you are clear that this is not negotiable.

2. Set regular sleep and awake times and be prepared to enforce them.

3. Cut out or drastically reduce sources of caffeine.

4. If there is a medication issue that may be contributing, consider changing timing of the med (talk with the child’s doctor about this.)

5. Think about bedtime routines that make sense and help implement.

And most importantly, try to enlist your child or teen into the effort.  Help them understand your concerns about their sleep and try to make a shared effort to get sleep back on track.  Celebrate with them when gains are made and help them try again if sleep remains difficult at first.

There are some medications that are used to help children restore sleep cycles, but most practitioners will ask that you try some of these other steps first. Good luck and let me know if there are other ideas about sleep out there!



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