Children's Dental Health Month - Sleep Well for Health

A favorite bedtime story and the soothing voice of a parent can put a child to sleep and start a process of health and well-being that can be accomplished only through good sleep.  There is overwhelming evidence that shows how important good sleep is for children’s mental and physical health, growth and development.  Sleep should be soothing and refreshing and bedtime for children can be a great bonding time with parents or it can be a challenge.  For some, bedtime can be difficult due to an active and/or frightened child. 

 Children who have difficulty going to sleep may be afraid or too stimulated to go to sleep for different reasons.  Children on certain medications may have trouble getting to sleep if their medications have not worn off.  For instance, medicines for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are stimulants.  Watching a screen (e.g. TV, computer, phone) within one hour of bedtime can adversely affect the brain into thinking it is still daytime so the normal sleep hormones are not produced.  Strenuous physical activity near bedtime can overstimulate the brain.  Scary shows and books can overstimulate the brain and release stress hormones.  Children who have disturbed sleep may have difficulty getting to sleep because sleep may make them uncomfortable.  Here are some reasons why sleep may be uncomfortable:  bed wetting, night terrors, frequent awakenings, night walking/talking, unrefreshing sleep.  Parents can be frustrated with a child who does not sleep well because of bedwetting or a child who disrupts the parents sleep by coming into the parent’s bed frequently.  Children can be afraid to go to sleep because they get in trouble for not sleeping well and siblings and friends may tease them if they snore or wet the bed.

 Is your child sleepy at bedtime?  If not, monitor and alter their activities leading up to bedtime and discuss all medications they take with their physician.  If activities and/or medications are not the problems maybe breathing is the problem. 

What effects breathing at night?  There are various things that adversely affect breathing at night and so affect sleep quality.  Obesity is the biggest contributor to poor breathing and poor health in children.  Other contributing factors are enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, nasal obstructions, tongue ties, asthma, allergies and underdeveloped jaws.  Poor breathing leads to fragmented sleep and possibly sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea interferes with neurologic development, behavior, cardiovascular health and disrupts growths.  Fragmented sleep also interferes with memory, reasoning, executive functions, healing, and intelligence.

Parents can recognize these issues with their kids.  Dentists trained in sleep and airway care can assist parents with the recognition of problems and propose solutions to these problems once a diagnosis is made.  When issues arise and are addressed early, the long-term consequences and health problems can be minimized or eliminated.  The longer the breathing problem exists, both physical and mental health issues become irreversible and progressive.  If your child has any of these issues: snoring, frequent awakenings, bedwetting, overweight, hyperactive, struggling in school, struggling with socialization then you should discuss with their physician about having an evaluation with a pediatric sleep physician.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he is on the faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.

Dr. Gallegos