"Sleep either plays a very critical role in our species health and development and survival or it's the biggest mistake that evolution has ever made."
Dr. Candice Alfano, directs the University of Houston's Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids (or SACK), a community based research center and clinic that assesses and treats children with sleep and anxiety disorders, two of the most common behavioral problems in children. She describes some of the problems commonly seen at SACK.
"Children who have a tough time initiating sleep, staying asleep, waking up in the morning because they're so exhausted," she said. "They get a bad case of the 'what ifs' at night, so they lie there thinking 'What if I don't do well on that test tomorrow? What if I miss the bus? What if I'm not able to sit at the lunch table with my friends at lunchtime?"
Alfano points out that many sleep issues are developmentally appropriate and will resolve on their own. Others, however, require clinical intervention.
"The first thing we do is conduct a very thorough assessment, which consists of an interview with parents and children, she said. "Sometimes we have kids wear an actograph. It's a small device that looks just like a wristwatch. What it's really doing is collecting information when they're asleep based on the presence of movement."
Alfano alsosays that children who don't get enough sleep are at risk for a range of problems, including poor performance in school, weight gain and obesity, and, later, anxiety disorders and depression. She says sleep health is as important as diet and exercise, and families need to make it a priority.
"If sleep weren't essential for development, growth, learning, health it probably wouldn't have survived thousands and thousands of millennia of evolution."
SACK is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.
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