TORONTO — A new study on children with sleep problems has raised serious concern among experts.
The study found far more children than previously thought are having recurring sleep issues.
Previously it was thought that up to 25 per cent of children had sleeping troubles. Now it is believed to be closer to 70 per cent.
The study authors also discovered that a large proportion of parents are turning to medication to help.
They found a third of children with sleep problems were being given sleep aids, 27 per cent of them were taking over-the-counter medication and six per cent were taking prescription medication.
Also concerning to one of the authors of the study was the type of medication being used — drugs such as pain medications and antihistamines.
“Clearly these are not usually meant to treat sleep problems in children,” said Dr. Dirk Bock of Western University.
The study also found that 40 per cent of parents who used medication to help their children sleep turned to melatonin.
A few small studies of the short term use of melatonin haven’t found problems. However, there have been no larger, long term studies of melatonin or other sleep aids used by children.
Experts say such studies are essential to ensure children’s safety and there are several questions that need to be answered.
“What is the right dose? What kind of kids are they likely to be effective in? Are there any long term affects? There are a variety of studies that need to be done,” said Dr. Michael Rieder, Chair of the Drug Therapy Committee for the Canadian Paediatric Society.
Rieder recommended that parents take their child to the doctor if they have recurring problems with sleeping, as there may be other medical issues at play.
For many children, behaviour modification can make the difference.
A mother of two boys, Rebecca Earl took a hard look at how to improve her older son’s sleep when he was a baby. Now she helps other parents.
“We’ll look at things like modifying the child’s overall sleep schedules for the day. We’ll look at modifying room conditions,” said Earl, who runs The Sugar Plum Sleep Co.
She said it is crucial for families to make sleep a priority and that consistency is key.
“It’s important that you have both set bed times and wake times, as well as an age appropriate routine.”