Is your child misbehaving or simply missing sleep? I talk with parents every day about baffling behavioral challenges in their children. More often than not, the conversation quickly turns to sleep.

Too little sleep, to be precise. It’s estimated that seven out of 10 American children (infants to teens) are literally screaming for more sleep.

Long-term sleep deprivation can cause disruptions to natural body rhythms, which in turn can undermine the way the brain matures. The results are an array of behavioral issues that range from hyperactivity and impulse control problems to trouble with peers and emotional difficulties. Studies also suggest sleep deprivation dampens children’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, resulting in lower grades and self esteem.

To add insult to injury, when parents reach out for help, the temper tantrums and behavioral issues often are written off as parent-child power struggles or medical issues, such as ADHD.

At Weiss Pediatric Care, we believe sleep is an important measure of child wellness. We include sleep assessments in our annual check-ups and when signs or symptoms are identified, try to help parents address sleep disruptions before they develop into more serious problems.

The biggest culprits we find are:

• Erratic bedtimes (irregular or late bedtime hours)

• Drinking caffeinated beverages, especially right before bedtime

• Interruptions in sleep caused by screen time prior to bedtime, and late night texting and use of mobile devices or video games (usually among older children).

The good news is that the effects of sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns are reversible if parents address what’s delaying or distracting their children’s slumber.

A couple of simple rules of thumb:

• Have a set bedtime, between 7 and 8 pm for kids up to age 5. Keeping children up later does not ensure they will sleep better, and often backfires, making it more difficult for them         to get a good night’s sleep.

• Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Following a bedtime routine helps children fall asleep more quickly and minimizes how often they wake at night. A bath followed by a set          reading time can create a soothing bedtime routine in younger children, but set up a consistent start and end time and firmly resist their pleas for one more book or story.

Finally, how much sleep should children get? The National Sleep Foundation says babies between the ages of 3 to 11 months should snooze for a total of 14 to 15 hours, while toddlers between 1 to 3 years old should get 12 to 14 hours. Preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours, and elementary students should sleep between 10 to 11 hours. Older children and teens need a minimum of 8½ hours.

Following are some excellent sources for more help on establishing healthy sleep habits.

Sleepless in America – Is Your Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

National Sleep Foundation All Ages

Sleepy Planet Newborn – 5 years

American Academy Of Pediatrics/  Teens & Sleep