Tag: anxiety

Understanding and Treating Teen Sleep Problems

Do your kids have to get up too early because school starts too early?
Do your kids have to get up too early because school starts too early?

Parents often ask for help getting their kids to fall sleep and then stay asleep all night.

At least they do when they are little.

Teens often have trouble sleeping too though, but parents often don’t recognize these sleep problems and might not think to ask for help. They do likely see some of the issues that can be caused by a poor night’s sleep though, which can include irritability, sadness, a poor attention span, and hyperactivity, etc.

Why Teens Don’t Sleep Well

From being over-scheduled and having to get up early for school to staying up late on a screen, there are many reasons why your teen might not be sleeping well.

There are also many different types of sleep problems.

To understand what is causing your child’s sleep problems, ask yourself these questions and share the answers with your pediatrician:

  • Does your teen sleep at least 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours each night?
  • Does your teen have trouble falling asleep or does he just wake up a lot in the middle of the night? Or does your teen seem to sleep enough, but is still always tired?
  • Does your teen snore loudly at night – a sign of obstructive sleep apnea?
  • Is your teen taking any medications that could cause insomnia, such as for ADHD (stimulant) or allergies (decongestant)?
  • Does your teen have poorly controlled allergies, asthma (late night coughing), eczema (frequent itching keeping him awake), or reflux?
  • Is your teen drinking any caffeine in the afternoon or evening?
  • Do you think that your teen is depressed or has anxiety, either of which could cause problems sleeping?
  • Have you noticed any symptoms of restless leg syndrome, including a strong urge to move his legs when he is sitting or lying down?
  • Does your teen have too much homework and is staying up late trying to get it all done?
  • What does your teen do just before going to sleep?
  • Does your teen fall asleep easier when he goes to bed much later than his typical bedtime or does he still have trouble falling asleep?
  • Are your teen’s sleep problems new?

And perhaps most importantly, what is your teen’s daily sleep schedule like? What time does he go to sleep and wake up, including weekends, and does he typically take a nap?

Treatments for Teen Sleep Problems

In addition to treating any underlining medical issues that might be causing your teen to have trouble sleeping, it will likely help if your teen learns about sleep hygiene and:

  • goes to bed and wakes up at about the same time each day, instead of trying to catch up on “lost sleep” on the weekends
  • keeps his room bright in the morning (let in the sunshine) and dark at night
  • avoids taking naps, or at least naps that are longer than about 30 to 45 minutes
  • avoids caffeine
  • is physically active for at least one hour each day
  • doesn’t eat a lot just before going to bed
  • turns off all screens (phone, TV, computer, video games, etc.) about 30 minutes before going to sleep
  • doesn’t get in bed until he is actually ready to go to sleep, which means not watching TV, reading, or doing anything else on his bed
  • gets out of bed if he doesn’t fall asleep after 10 to 15 minutes and reads a few pages of a book, before trying to go to sleep again

Did that work?

If you teen is still having sleep problems, encourage them to try some basic relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and deep breathing or abdominal breathing. You do them at bedtime and again if you wake up in the middle of the night.

I especially like the idea of guided imagery for teens, as they can focus on something they like to do, whether it is building a sandcastle on the beach, or going horseback riding, surfing, hiking, or playing baseball, etc. They should focus on the details of the story they make up, coming back to it if their mind wanders, and hopefully they fall asleep as they get caught up in it.

With the deep breathing technique, they slowly breath in through their nose and out through their mouth. They can hold their breath for a few seconds or breath into their abdomen too (abdominal breathing).

Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that might help your child relax at bedtime. They simply tense and then relax each muscle group of their body, one at a time, starting with their toes and working their way up. If they make it up to their forehead and aren’t asleep, then they should work their way down, perhaps doing 3 to 5 repetitions for each muscle group,  or try another technique.

And be sure to talk to your pediatrician if your teen continues to struggle with sleep problems.

What To Know About Teen Sleep Problems

Although teen sleep problems are common, they can cause serious daytime issues for your teenager, which makes it important to learn about good sleep hygiene and that help is available from your pediatrician.

For More Information on Teen Sleep Problems

Ten Things That Aren’t As Scary As Most Parents Think

Being a parent can be scary enough.

Don’t let these every day parenting issues freak you out even more.

Be prepared for when you child eats a bug, has a night terror, or wakes up barking like a seal.

  1. Breath holding spells – in a typical breath holding spell, a young child cries, either from a tantrum or a fall, etc., and then holds his breath (involuntarily) and briefly passes out. Although it sounds scary and the episode might look like a seizure, these kids usually quickly wake up and are fine after. Kids who have breath holding spells are often prone to repeated spells though, so you do want to warm other caregivers so they don’t freak out if your child has one. Eventually, kids outgrow having them.
  2. Febrile Seizures – parents often describe their child’s first febrile seizure as ‘the worst moment of their life.’ Febrile seizures typically occur when a fever rises rapidly, but although they are scary, they are usually brief, stop without treatment, don’t cause any problems, and most kids outgrow having them by the time they are about five years old.
  3. Nosebleeds – a nosebleed that doesn’t stop is certainly scary, but with proper treatment, most nosebleeds will stop in ten to twenty minutes (if not sooner), even if your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a bloody nose for what you think is no reason.
  4. Night terrors – often confused for nightmares, a child having a night terror will wake up in the early part of the night yelling and screaming, which is why parents think their child is having a nightmare. The scary thing though, is that their child will be confused, likely won’t recognize you, and might act terrified – and it all might last for as long as 45 minutes or more. Fortunately, night terrors are normal. Your child likely won’t even remember what happened the next morning. And they eventually stop.
  5. Eating a Bug – “Kids eat bugs all the time. Few if any symptoms are likely to occur.” – that’s a quote from the National Capital Poison Center, who must get more than a few calls from worried parents about their kids eating bugs. Or finding the evidence later – when you see a dead bug in their diaper…
  6. High Fever – pediatricians have done a lot of education about fever phobia over the years, but parents often still get scared that a high fever is going to cause brain damage or hurt their child in some other way. Try to remember that fever is just another symptom and doesn’t tell you how sick your child is.
  7. Playing Doctor – even though it’s natural for young kids to be curious about their bodies, the average parent is likely going to be scared and upset if they “catch” their kids playing doctor. Understand that it is usually a normal part of child development and don’t turn it into a problem by making it into more than it is.
  8. Hives – a child with classic hives might have a red raised rash develop suddenly all over his body. And since hives are very itchy, that child is probably going to be miserable, which can make hives very scary, even though without other symptoms (like vomiting or trouble breathing), they typically aren’t a sign of a serious allergic reaction. The other thing about hives that can be scary is that even when they go away with a dose of Benadryl, they often come back – sometimes for days, but often for weeks. And your pediatrician might not be able to tell you what triggered them.
  9. Croup – your child goes to bed fine, but then wakes up in the middle of the night with a strange cough that sounds like a barking seal, has a hoarse cry, and it seems like he is wheezing. Scary, right? Sure, but if you realize he probably has croup and that some time in the bathroom with a hot shower (getting the room steamy can often calm his breathing), you’ll be ready for this common viral infection.
  10. Choking – while choking can be a life-threatening emergency, most episodes of choking aren’t. In addition to learning CPR and how to prevent choking, remember that if you child “is still able to speak or has a strong cough” then you may not have to do anything, except maybe 911 if he or she is having some breathing difficulties. It is when your child is choking and can not breath at all (and can’t talk and isn’t coughing) that you need to quickly react and do the Heimlich Maneuver while someone calls 911.

Even with a little foreknowledge and preparation, many of these very common pediatric issues are scary. Don’t hesitate or be afraid to call your pediatrician for more help.

For More Information on Things That Scare Parents

Helping Kids Cope With Stress

Children, especially teens, often have stress in their lives.

Whether caused by the loss of a friend or loved one, a recent move, being teased or bullied, difficulties at home, or problems at school, childhood stress can lead to behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, headaches, drug use, and insomnia, among many other symptoms and medical problems.

Other symptoms of stress can include mood swings or temper tantrums in a younger child, withdrawing from friends and family, and aggression.

What Causes Kids to Have Stress?

Unfortunately, the source of stress for a child is frequently not so easy to recognize and parents are not always very good at noticing things that could be stressors, which can include things like:

  • a change at daycare for preschool age children, including attending daycare for the first time, moving to a new room, having a new teacher, or changing to a new daycare, etc.
  • having too much homework
  • being over-scheduled with sports and other extracurricular activities
  • having expectations for his performance that are unrealistic and too high or a fear of failure, despite of having good grades, having a lot of friends, etc.
  • a divorce or death in a friend’s family, which can raise fears that the same thing could happen to his own parents
  • poor self esteem
  • watching something stressful on the news, such as a school shooting, terrorist attack, or natural disaster
  • a chronic medical problem, like asthma or diabetes, or an acute medical problem, like a burn or broken leg
  • a medical problem in a family member
  • a traffic accident
  • financial problems at home

Keep in mind that common childhood transitions, such as moving to a toddler bed, starting kindergarten, going to camp, starting puberty, beginning high school, and going off to college, etc., can be very stressful for some children.

The other confusing thing about stress is that the symptoms of being stressed do not always immediately follow whatever is causing the stress and the same situations don’t cause stress in all children or even for the same child at different stages in their life.

Helping Kids Cope With Stress

Although overlooked as many parents and children look for a quick fix for their problems with stress, it is important not to overlook the importance of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a good night’s sleep to help them cope with any problems with any stress they are having.

Other ways to help your child cope with stress can include:

  • scheduling more free time for your child, especially if being too busy is the source of her stress
  • spending quality time with your child and give them plenty of opportunities to talk about their worries and problems
  • eating dinner together each night as a family and having other routines or rituals that you stick to on a regular basis
  • helping your child set realistic expectations for himself
  • be prepared for stressful situations that you can anticipate, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move to a new city, or a parent who is going to have surgery
  • giving your child age appropriate responsibilities and allowing him to overcome simple challenges on his own without always bailing him out, which can help teach them basic problem solving skills that he will need throughout his life
  • teaching your child ways to relax, including diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visual imagery, listening to music, reading, keeping a journal, and drawing, etc.

Your pediatrician can be a good resource if your need help managing your child’s level of stress, especially if your child’s symptoms from the stress are not temporary. A mental health professional, such as a counselor, child psychologist, and/or child psychiatrist, can also be very helpful for the overly stressed child or even for a child who does not routinely handle stress well.

Sources:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families. No. 66; Updated Feb 2013. Stress Management and Teens. Accessed May 2016.