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Children's Sleep Matters: ADHD, Diabetes, Depression, Obesity, and More

The book "The Rested Child" can help your child be calm, happy, and healthy.

Key points

  • Two-thirds of children experience a sleep problem at some point before adulthood.
  • Undiagnosed sleep disorders cause or exacerbate many childhood problems with health and attention, including ADHD, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Parents should support their children in developing a positive attitude toward sleep, realizing it's normal to have an occasional bad night.
Reynardo Etenia Wongso/Unsplash
Source: Reynardo Etenia Wongso/Unsplash

Most parents have sleep issues with their child at some point along the way. (Most parents also have sleep issues of their own, but that’s a topic that Chris Winter addresses elsewhere, like in The Sleep Solution.) In The Rested Child: Why Your Tired, Wired, or Irritable Child May Have a Sleep Disorder—and How to Help, neurologist and sleep specialist Chris Winter helps parents understand their children’s sleep needs. The book’s subtitle suggests it’s about kids who are showing evidence of sleep problems, but, really, I think it’s for pretty much every parent. At the very least, The Rested Child is for parents of the two-thirds of children who experience a sleep disorder at some point in time.

Winter uses case studies from his practice, where he works with kids who have sleep problems that interfere with their growth, development, and well-being. Reading this book affirms my belief that sleep matters in all kinds of ways that are obvious, and many more ways that aren’t so obvious. Winter states, “We are losing battles against ADHD, diabetes, depression, and obesity, but all the while these diseases are quietly being caused by or fueled by unrecognized and untreated sleep disorders.” He underlines how important it is for parents to pay attention to the role of sleep in their children’s problems, citing the National Sleep Foundation’s estimate that two out of every three children in the United States experience a sleep problem before reaching adulthood.

One of the great strengths of this book is its emphasis on practical ideas and suggestions. For example, Winter recommends cultivating a “positive sleep outlook,” helping your child feel good about their sleeping, and realizing it’s normal and OK to have a hard time sleeping sometimes. If your child wants to talk about having had a bad sleep, he writes, “Acknowledge the night, recontextualize the night as something your body considers to be relatively normal, and finally reassure your child that his body can handle it, and that most of his nights are perfectly fine. End on a note that inspires confidence and optimism, not fear.”

Winter is strongly against sleeping pills of every kind. He writes, “One of my favorite Secret Laws of Sleep is: ‘I’ve never met a sleeping pill that doesn’t lie.’” A bit further along, he writes, “No child needs a drug to fall asleep. Sleep is inevitable. By condoning that pill, I am further undermining this kid’s ability to develop a positive sleep identity.” As you might have noticed in what I’ve already quoted, his writing style is confident, breezy, and good-natured, with lots of humor thrown in to lighten what could be a dreary subject. He finishes his antipill diatribe with, “I have an empty file labeled, ‘Studies on Sleeping Pills that Improve the Sleep, Health, and Performance of Children.’”

Winter addresses the sleep concerns of teenagers, too. One of his more interesting suggestions is that school shouldn’t start before 8:30 a.m. Citing research showing that kids’ school performance and health improve when school starts later, he writes, “In my opinion, school is the clearest and most present threat to your child getting a healthy amount of sleep. If the COVID crisis has taught us anything, it is the fact that the removal of a rigid, in-person school schedule has resulted in a dramatic increase in sleep time for many children.” If school start time is eating into your teen’s hours of sleep, you might consider advocating for a later start time. You’ll probably find other parents, as well as teachers and kids, who’ll work with you on getting something done about this.

Winter addresses the sleep concerns of most parents of most kids, and he also considers the serious sleep problems that affect fewer kids, but have serious potential consequences — sleep apnea, enuresis, nightmares, and fatigue disorders. I found his advice thoughtful, informed, and considered — a comforting alternative to what you might find on an Internet search of these conditions.

The Rested Child is an easy read. It’s knowledgeable, good-humored, and reassuring, and filled with practical suggestions. If you have any sleep issues with your baby or child or teenager, or even if you don’t, you might want to take a look at this book.