Did you know that up to 40% of kids have sleep problems? And did you know that these sleep problems interfere with a child’s physical, mental, emotional and social development, with ramifications that can be seen throughout their childhood and adolescence?
Who am I?
My name’s Sharon Moore and I’m a speech pathologist (known as a speech language pathologist in the US, and speech therapist in the UK). I’m the founder of Well Spoken, a speech pathology practice that helps children with communication problems like; voice, articulation, fluency, hearing, and language disorders. In addition, I became aware of the emerging field of sleep medicine. That’s why I wrote Sleep-Wrecked Kids: Helping Parents Raise Happy, Healthy Kids One Sleep at a Time.
As a mother, I know there is nothing like lack of sleep or interrupted sleep to bring out the worst in kids (and their parents ☺). And in my work with medical and dental specialists, I have seen first-hand how sleep problems interfere with kids’ growth, health and family happiness.
You may be wondering how sleep relates to a speech pathologists’ core work of diagnosing and solving communication problems. Surprisingly, a lot. In fact, they fit together very neatly in two main ways. Firstly, sleep problems, no matter the type or severity, interfere with a child’s ability to think, behave, regulate their emotions, develop and use communication skills. Secondly, when looking closely at the developing facial bones and muscle systems of the mouth, face and throat (the upper airway) – which are key to speech, eating, breathing, hearing and voice – it turns out that this system also supports healthy breathing during sleep.
As a speech pathologist, I started to wonder how on earth I would be able to help kids with their upper-airway and communication problems without also addressing their sleep problems, which were undermining everything we did in therapy. I realised that resolving this issue was going to be critical to the success of the kids and families asking me for help, and it needed a team approach. Not only that, I came to realise that global collaboration between families and all health, education and childcare professionals, would be needed to truly change myths and misperceptions about sleep.
What’s the problem?
The World Health Organization has named poor sleep an epidemic because up to 40% of kids have sleep problems and most of them go undetected. These sleep problems undermine every domain of a child’s development: physical, mental, emotional and social. While there are 100+ possible sleep disorders, one of the most common relates to breathing and the upper airway – sleep-disordered breathing.
Studies show that undetected sleep problems like sleep-disordered breathing interfere with a child’s brain development. Untreated, the problems may not be reversible.
Untreated sleep problems, no matter how mild, shape each developmental turn through childhood, compounding over time. Unhalted, they shape each developmental turn into adolescence and then adulthood. Sleep problems don’t resolve unless we take deliberate action.
What are the main challenges facing parents?
There are millions of kids globally who have sleep problems, and most of them are missed, dismissed or misdiagnosed.
This leaves parents with three key challenges:
- Awareness: Parents notice symptoms, but might think that noisy breathing, snoringand night-waking are normal because no one told them they are not, in fact they are frequently told that those symptoms are normal.
- Having effective solutions: Parents may recognise a problem, but they are busy, stressed and probably sleep deprived themselves. This leaves them looking for the quick fix, like “I can stop snoring by propping a bigger pillow under their head” or playing musical beds in the middle of the night to settle them.
- Finding expert help: Parents looking for expert advice have trouble findingthe rightadvice. Sleep medicine is a specialised area and many doctors simply do not know howto resolve sleep issues. In fact, one of my patients had visited more than 23 top medical specialists in Australia and the US, and it was not until a dentist recognised an airway problem at a routine check-up that they started to resolve the problems.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to start addressing these problems. In my book, Sleep-Wrecked Kids the importance of children’s sleep is covered in depth, including the consequences of poor sleep, and teaches parents how to recognise the red flags of sleep problems as well as changes that can be made to improve them. If your child’s sleep issues persist, there is a whole chapter on the different professionals who may be able to help.
Get your copy today on Amazon, or anywhere books are sold online.
I’m on a mission to help parents recognise the importance of sleep and understand that there is a formula they can follow. But the first step is education campaigns to dispel the myths that interfere with attitudes to sleep.