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How Children's Sleep Issues Affect the Family

on Wed, 10/09/2013 - 02:59

Many parents know that sleep problems can affect their child’s functioning during the day and at school. What they often neglect to address is the impact that it has on their own functioning and the family unit. Parents either assume their child will grow out of sleep problems or they feel there is no solution and they don’t implement any interventions.

The fact is, when children have sleep issues it not only interferes with the child’s well-being, but that of the entire household. So, a child’s sleep issues can quickly become a family problem. The ill effects of sleep deprivation can influence all aspects of family life. A child’s sleep problems can affect how siblings feel, couples relate, and even the family pet.
5 Common Ways Sleep Issues Impact the Family:
1. Frustrated Siblings: A child with sleep issues is often not quiet or reserved in letting family members know he has trouble sleeping. There is often screaming, meltdowns, and crying. Parents have to attend to the child’s needs at bedtime and during the night. The better sleeping siblings are often woken up during this process. This affects the sibling’s sleep. Children can also become jealous or feel left out by all the attention they witness being showered on their sibling with the sleep problem.

2. Marital Relationship: Couples have reported that they find themselves being more irritable with each other due to the chronic sleep deprivation that comes with waking up at night with a child who can’t put himself to sleep. This can lead to increased discord and fighting. Couples are often in conflict on how to solve the sleep problem and may blame each other for the cause. Another major area that is affected for the couple is the reduction of quality couple time. In many instances when a child has sleep issues, parents are spending the evening fighting with their child to go to bed, taking shifts trying to get their child to settle down, or lying down with their child and unwillingly co-sleeping. It doesn’t help alleviate the sleep issues when parents blame each other - it really isn’t anyone’s fault. However, it is highly effective in resolving sleep issues when both parents can get on the same page.

3. Parent’s Functioning: Sleep deprived parents have reported trouble concentrating at work, feeling drowsy and exhausted during the day, being less efficient in completing tasks, losing things, and being forgetful. Parents also report that even simple things can become more difficult, and they have become clumsier. This is because good quality and quantity of sleep is crucial for cognitive functioning and the concentration it requires to carry out daily activities.

4. Parent’s Mental and Physical Health: Parents report having a short fuse, yelling more easily at their children and not reacting to their child in the ideal way. This often leads to feelings of parenting guilt. I have worked with mothers who report feeling depressed, anxious, and tearful. Some of the reported physical effects include feelings of nausea, loss or gain in appetite, feeling sluggish or stuck in a “fog”. This makes sense that parents encounter these side effects when sleep is how the body restores itself each night. When that process is interfered with it can affect health in a very negative way.

5. Pressure on Family Pets: As strange as it may sound, even pets can get pulled into nightly sleep battles with children. Parents send the family pet as a reinforcement or comfort item to children who demand the company of a living, breathing body next to them. The issue with this is that it can foster dependency and become a “sleep crutch”. The child ends up unable to fall asleep without the pet. If the pet passes away, the child will not only have to mourn the loss of the pet, but the loss of the security item that helped him fall asleep. This can likely increase the severity of a child’s sleep issues.

Regardless of how a child’s sleep issues affect a family unit or its members, there are solutions. It is not necessary to wait until the child outgrows the issue.  It is in the best interest of the entire household to help children improve their sleep. Children who sleep well can help promote happier and healthier families.