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Is Your Kid Sleeping?
Reaserch by Sadia Hanif

You would think that parents would know whether their child was having trouble sleeping. After all, they’re the ones called on for umpteen glasses of water and kisses goodnight. But a new survey of the sleep habits of children in kindergarten through fourth grade shows that common wisdom isn’t necessarily so. 
    
Judith Owens, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Brown University School of Medicine, found that if you ask a kid how he has been sleeping he will often give you a far different answer than his mom or dad. More than a quarter of the children she surveyed from three elementary schools in Rhode Island reported having trouble falling asleep, whereas only about 5 percent of their parents were aware of the problem. Similarly 14.6 percent of the kids, but only 4.6 percent of parents, said the children woke up in the middle of the night. 

Too Many Tired Kids
Owens and her colleagues, also asked teachers about the kids in their classrooms and found that one in 10 elementary-aged children were sleepy during the day. 
     “I’m a little surprised at that,” says John Shepard, medical director of the Mayo Sleep Disorders Center in Rochester, Minn. “I would have thought that more children in this kindergarten through fourth grade group would be awake and alert.” 
     “We know that kids this age are at their peak of alertness relative to any other age,” Owens says. But sleep deprivation can affect a child’s mood and the ability to pay attention and process information. “So if you see that behavior in your elementary school-aged child,” she says, “you should be concerned.” 

Signs of Sleepiness
One red flag for parents that a child may be sleep-deprived is if the child sleeps in on weekends until 11 a.m. or noon, Owens says. If a child is very slow to get going on weekday mornings — atypical behavior for this age group — it may be a sign of sleep deprivation. Researchers have found kids this age need about 10 hours of sleep a night on average. Shepard adds that children who snore loudly, especially if they are sleepy, should be evaluated by a sleep specialist. 
     But as the results of Owens’ study make clear, the best way to find out if your child has a sleep problem is to ask. 
     “Even preschoolers can give you a fair idea of what’s on their mind and what bothers them,” says George Cohen. “When kids get older, they have what they see as problems, but nobody asks them so they don’t complain.” 

Sleep as Important as Nutrition
It’s up to parents, says Owens, to instill good sleep habits. “Just as you wouldn’t let your child eat candy three meals a day, you need to help your child get adequate sleep.” 
     What that means, according to sleep experts, is enforcing a consistent bedtime as well as building in some downtime without TV or video games so that a child’s body can relax and get ready for sleep.
     “Parents also need to make sleep a priority in their own lives,” Owens says. “You need to be convinced of that in order to set a good example for kids to follow.”