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how to help your snuffly kids sleep through the night

FAQs for proactive parents

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A good night’s sleep is a cornerstone of health for your child and your whole family. But if you’re like millions of parents around the world, your little one is having a hard time catching their Z’s.

As an expecting parent, you've probably heard plenty of jokes and anecdotes about how little sleep you will get once your baby is born. It is normal for newborns to wake frequently throughout the night to feed. But when these sleep-interrupted nights extend beyond the first few months and into toddlerhood, it is time to get proactive and address the issue.
 

A growing problem

In the last ten years, sleep problems have tripled across the globe. Unfortunately, an alarming percentage of children aren’t getting the nightly rest they need to thrive. Some experts estimate up to 24% of all children have frequent problems sleeping. And let’s be honest — if your kids aren’t sleeping well, then you as a parent aren’t either. Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to improve your child's sleep (and your own)!

Expert insights

The following article is inspired by the work of world-renowned speech pathologist and myofunctional expert, Sharon Moore. Her monumental book Sleep-Wrecked Kids: Helping Parents Raise Happy, Healthy Kids, One Sleep at a Time is a must-read for parents who are looking for an evidence-based approach and practical steps to establish good sleep habits and healthy airways for their children.

We've compiled frequently asked questions by parents and answered them based on the in-depth research and insights of Sharon Moore. Moore is the founder of Well Spoken, a speech pathology and orofacial myofunctional practice in Canberra, Australia. Her book draws upon her vast experience, with almost four decades of work as a speech pathologist and over 40,000 clinical consultations.

Why is sleep so important for my child’s development?

During sleep, your child experiences vital restorative processes that impact their mental health, physical wellbeing, mood and behavior. When sleep is interrupted or when children don’t get enough sleep, their health and development is in danger.

In Sleep-Wrecked Kids, Sharon Moore writes about how sleep problems in children impact the following four key domains for development:

  1. Physical (growth and immunity)
  2. Mental (IQ, focus, and problem solving)
  3. Emotional (mood and emotional regulation)
  4. Social (response and interaction with others)

Is it normal for my child or baby to snore?

Although it is common, snoring, night waking, and noisy breathing are anything but normal, especially in infants and children. If your child or baby is snoring at night, it is a sign that their airway is blocked and they are not getting enough oxygen to the brain. This is a serious issue. If left unaddressed, can cause long-term physical and mental health problems. Obstructive sleep apnea in children has even been linked to brain damage. Snoring could be a sign of sleep disordered breathing, sleep apnea, or another sleep and breathing disorder that deserves prompt medical attention.

What are the consequences of my child not sleeping well at night?

Sleep issues can have serious consequences. In the short term, poor sleep affects your child’s development, learning, socialization, mood and immune system. Children with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Sadly, the majority of children who have obstructive sleep apnea are never even diagnosed.

In the long-term, poor sleep has been associated with physical problems including your kid’s appetite, growth, brain, heart, blood pressure and development of the jaw and teeth. Sleep problems are also closely linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Sleep research has found that patients with obstructive sleep apnea have a significantly higher risk of lung, kidney, skin and pancreatic cancers. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea have also been linked to heart issues, dementia and poor memory. Sleep fragmentation and disturbed sleep has even been linked to stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes and schizophrenia.

Can sleep problems impact my child’s hormones?

Sleep is closely tied to the release of growth hormone (somatotropin). When children don’t get enough sleep or proper sleep, it can disrupt their sleep cycles and delay or inhibit their development. Furthermore, sleep problems also affect hormones that help regulate appetite. Hormone imbalances linked to sleep problems have been found to lead to obesity and problems regulating the amount of food they eat. Poor sleep also increases the levels of cortisol (often called the stress hormone or “fight or flight” hormone), which leads to poor immunity, anxiety, memory problems and even aggression.


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What could be the cause of my child’s sleep problems and what can I do to help my kids sleep better?

Some types of sleep problems are behavioral and can be remedied with changes to their daily and nightly routine, physical environment, emotional well-being and sleep hygiene. Other sleep problems have an underlying physical or physiological issue, such as a tongue tie, oral dysfunction or airway issue. These often require professional diagnosis and treatment and may benefit from myofunctional therapy, surgery, orthodontics, release procedure, or another type of intervention.

Why is it so hard to find healthcare providers who take my child’s poor sleep symptoms seriously?

Sleep medicine is a very specialized field, and many healthcare professionals just haven’t been adequately trained in how to spot the signs and make a referral to a healthcare provider who can help. Parents often find that professionals vary widely in their approach or awareness of sleep issues, with many having to go to dozens of professionals before getting support and results. It is very common for parents to be told to “get more exercise” or “try to get your child to relax.” Oftentimes, information can be contradictory and confusing. That’s why it is so important to surround yourself with a circle of care — an interdisciplinary approach with trusted professionals who truly understand sleep problems, airway issues and oral dysfunction.

What’s the connection between sleep problems and ADHD?

In Sleep-Wrecked Kids, Moore writes, “Daytime behaviors that result from sleep disorders can look a lot like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”

Some examples of these types of daytime behaviors include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Learning challenges
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty staying still
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Hyperactivity
  • “Acting out”
  • Talking out of turn

Children with ADHD often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are common among children with ADHD. Children who snore may also be more at risk for behavior issues and learning difficulties. Sometimes medications for ADHD have side effects that make it even harder for kids to fall asleep. Poor sleep can heighten and intensify behavioral issues during the day.

There is still a lot to be researched about the connections between behavior and sleep. Preliminary research shows that the chemicals in the brain linked to sleep are also related to ADHD. Like many leading experts in the field, Moore advocates for any child diagnosed with ADHD or behavioral issues to be screened and assessed for a sleep disorder with a sleep medicine professional.


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What are the red flags of oral dysfunction and sleep problems?

Because sleep deprivation and poor sleep affects so many aspects of health and daily function, the signs and red flags are varied. Sleep affects the way your child is able to communicate, behave, learn and focus

Signs to look for include:

  • Either tired/lethargic or wired/hyperactive during the day (children respond differently to sleep deprivation, on either end of the spectrum)
  • Mouth breathing
  • Snoring
  • Loud breathing
  • Slow to speak
  • Nasally voice
  • Bed-wetting
  • Night-waking
  • Restless sleep (rumpled and twisted bed-covers, bumping into walls)
  • Excessive drool on pillowcase
  • Sleeping with mouth open
  • Teeth grinding
  • Irrational meltdowns
  • Defiant behavior
  • Explosive temper tantrums
  • Speech delays
  • Anxiety
  • Season allergies
  • Acid reflux
  • Habitual cough
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids

Keep an eye out for signs of a sleep breathing disorder such as:

  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Long narrow facial structure (could point to a smaller airway)
  • Underdeveloped lower and upper jaws
  • Problems with breathing muscles
  • Oral restrictions such as tongue tie, lip tie, and buccal tie

Watch for habits and behaviors in everyday life including:

  • Excessively licking lips
  • Often having tongue out (tongue thrusting)
  • Chewing improperly (chewing with mouth open)
  • Fussy with food

What can I do to help my child learn good sleep habits?

In Sleep-Wrecked Kids, Moore writes that the first step for parents is to develop good sleep literacy by knowing what good sleep and bad sleep habits are. Turn your child’s bedroom into a “sleep sanctuary” and create a consistent bedtime routine. There are several simple yet foundational changes that you can make to start improving your child’s sleep in just a few weeks. Master your own “sleep formula” and build regularly-used triggers that help signal your child’s mind and body that it is time to wind down and sleep.

Create a sleep-supportive physical environment paying attention to:

  • Light (make sure the room is dark or dimly lit with soft rose-colored light with a timer to trigger the release of melatonin)
  • Screens (Avoid exposing your child to screens or bright artificial lights before bed.)
  • Temperature (comfortable ideal temperature of 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Bedding and pajamas that help them stay comfortable at that temperature
  • Noises (quiet or noise machine or gentle music)
  • Smells (avoid chemicals or smells that could disrupt sleep or hormones, use sleep supporting essential oils like rose or lavender)
  • Making sure your child isn’t hungry, thirsty, or in pain


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What is myofunctional therapy? Can it help with sleep problems?

Sharon Moore describes myofunctional therapy as “the systematic training of the muscles of the upper airway.” In Sleep-Wrecked Kids, she writes: “Myo is a therapeutic technique used to educate or re-educate the oral and facial muscles for optimal breathing, sucking, facial muscle movement, eating and drinking.” Myofunctional therapy not only helps your child eliminate harmful habits — it corrects problems and establishes ideal “rest postures,” laying a foundation for healthy bone, skull and tooth development.

What does this have to do with sleep? Myofunctional therapy can help your child build the healthy airway they need to improve their sleep and overall health. Your child must learn to breathe well in order to sleep well. “If you think your child has developed a myofunctional disorder,” writes Moore, “then it’s time to see a myofunctional practitioner for myo-correction.”

When is it time to see a specialist?

If you’ve already adjusted and improved your daytime and nighttime routine, optimized your child’s physical and emotional environment, and put in place best practices and sleep hygiene, and your child is still not sleeping well, then it is time to find a trusted specialist who can help. If you suspect your child has a serious sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea, then it is important to get a diagnosis and treatment from a medical specialist. Moore encourages parents to “seek out the medical, dental, and allied health practitioners who have a special interest in sleep disorders and upper airway health.”

How can I set my child up for a lifetime of health and wellness?

“The way we live our lives is rarely textbook, and there is no such thing as a perfect life, perfect parent, or perfect child,” writes Moore, “The key is to start as soon as possible. Once you realize there is a problem take steps to address it.”

 

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Ready to learn more & get specialized support?

We created health:latch circle to increase education, awareness, and support around the issues of airway health, oral dysfunction & oral restrictions.

The circle makes it easy for you to surround yourself with caring and knowledgeable healthcare professionals across many healthcare fields and healing modalities who can guide and advise you through the ups and downs of diagnosing, treating, and recovering from the long-term effects of an oral restriction, early childhood cavities and more.

The health:latch circle is a radically kind, community-based online platform that allows interested parents and professionals to ask questions, learn together and connect to trusted professionals who are committed to helping families thrive.

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