SLEEP EXPERT: REST IS CRUCIAL
NYC-Parents in Action is a community of parents who want to be involved, informed and connected. What better way to stay informed and involved than by connecting with experts in our community?
For our latest Q&A Corner: “Ask The Expert,” we spoke with Amy Kaye, a behavior and sleep-training expert with over 20 years of experience. She holds a B.A. in Special Education and a Master’s in Early Childhood Special Education. Her expertise and education in the area of sleep training and behavior management has enabled her to transform parents’ lives by helping alter their children’s sleep habits.
Q: Let’s start with an easy one. Why is sleep so important to our kids?
A: Sleep is so valuable. When people call about behavioral or attention concerns, it’s often the last thing they look at, but I always ask if a child is well rested. Lack of sleep can be the key to many underlying issues, yet parents often overlook it. If you can sleep, then you can focus. But, of course, life sometimes gets it in the way, so then it’s about being prepared with strategies, which can sometimes be hard to implement. But overall, the value of being well rested benefits the family as a whole because when a child is rested, then the parents can get the sleep they need, and the entire family unit functions better.
Q. How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep?
A. There are guidelines,* butreally it’s less about the actual number of hours and more about how your child presents to you. If your child wakes up calm and relaxed, that means they’re rested. If your child wakes up irritable, restless with extra energy, can’t eat, or is not focused, those are signs that a child needs more sleep. If your child falls asleep easily and sleeps all night, that’s usually an indicator they’re well rested. When a child has a hard time falling asleep, gets up during the night or falls asleep midday, it typically means the child needs more rest.
Q. What is your feeling about naps?
A. For kids ages 6-18, naps can be helpful at times, especially when a child is sick, but for the most part naps will likely get in the way of nighttime sleep. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to get into a negative cycle: napping after school, getting up to do homework, not being able to fall asleep until 1-2:00 am, having difficulty waking up in the morning, and then being exhausted all time.
Q. How do you establish good sleep habits?
A. It’s all about getting to bed earlier and getting the body more rest. Most parents believe if they put their child to bed later, the child will sleep later the next morning, but it doesn’t work like that. Most kids wake up at the same time, regardless. If a child is healthy but behaving poorly, it’s often because the child is overtired. Getting the child to bed earlier is often the answer. Parents can find ways to make changes to the evening routine in order to get things done earlier. It may not be possible every night, because life happens, but adjusting the routine or schedule for homework or bath time and establishing an earlier bedtime is an advantageous strategy.
Q. Do you have any tricks to fall/stay asleep?
A: I recommend that all electronics be out of the bedroom, have a dark room and use a white noise machine, especially in Manhattan! But the trick is a consistent, early bedtime.
Q. What do you think about the use of melatonin?
A. The use of melatonin as a sleep aid doesn’t really fix the root of the problem and you wouldn’t want a child to make the association that they need to take something to fall asleep. It’s not something I use in my practice, but there may be practical reasons to use it on an as needed basis to reset a child, upon advice of a doctor.
Q. We all need sleep, so why is establishing good sleep habits so difficult?
A. A lot of parents worry about meeting their child’s emotional needs. If a child has fears and has trouble separating during the day, that’s one thing. But, if a child talks about fears only in the evening before bed, usually it’s a sign that the child has learned the behavior and is using it to get attention. Parents need to know how and when to be clear and firm. People of all ages struggle with healthy sleep habits; however, it’s a problem that’s fixable, and the development of good habits is something you will have forever. When it comes to a child’s temperament, functioning and overall well-being, sleep is so valuable that it is worth every effort to establish those good habits. Be clear and firm in the routines you set to help your child toward that goal.
Consistency counts. When we second-guess ourselves, it can create chaos for our kids. If we say no, and then say yes because we’re swayed by our child’s nighttime protests — a drink of water, one more hug, one more game, etc.— the child learns that delaying tactics work. We as parents have to be clear in how we manage and address bedtime. Bedtime shouldn’t be negotiable. Set your expectations and stick to them.
* American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) sleep guidelines are as follows:
6-12 year olds need 9-12 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, and 13-18 year olds need 8-10 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.