We're checking in with our ProSquad experts again! This time, parents have questions about whether their child is getting enough sleep, and how to manage the often-difficult homework routine.

 

My five-year-old son has never been a great sleeper, but in the past year he's settled into a routine of sleeping from 8:30 or 9 p.m. to around 6 a.m. (no naps). I adjusted to his early mornings a long time ago, since he's rarely slept later than 6 a.m. since infancy.

My question is how to tell whether he is sleeping enough overall. Most of my friends' children seem to get much more sleep — they go to sleep earlier, sleep later in the morning and some still take afternoon naps. He sometimes seems tired during the day, like right after school, but he's pretty good-natured overall. In the past, I've moved around his bedtime to see if he would sleep more or sleep later, but no luck. I just don't want to be raising a terribly sleep-deprived kid.

It's a good question. Chronic sleep deprivation is toxic to kids and is linked to a bevy of health woes, from diabetes to attention problems to mood disorders. You're smart to want to steer clear of it. But I don't think your son is sleep-deprived. He's likely just a child who needs less sleep than his peers.

How can I tell? One clue is that you mentioned that he's always risen at 6 a.m., even as an infant. Children who need more sleep but get stuck in a pattern of early waking generally have a history of sleeping later, and the early waking comes on suddenly. Another clue is that he seems relatively happy during the day — sleep-starved kids are often groggy and irritable. A third is that he doesn't nap. Children who need more sleep at night will often fall asleep at the drop of a hat during the day, which makes it even harder to fall asleep at night and perpetuates the vicious cycle.

Though waking early in the morning can be a sign of overtiredness, that isn't always the case. About 10-15 percent of children are natural-born early birds, and it sounds as though your son is one of them. Living with a child who doesn't need much sleep can be exhausting, since you don't have the long, luxurious kid-free evenings or nap times that other parents get. But I'm betting your son's bright, energetic personality more than makes up for it. For more tips on living peacefully with a child who needs less sleep, see my guest post "Living With a Short Sleeper" at Easy to Love But Hard to Raise.

 

Sleep Pro, Malia Jacobson

Malia Jacobson has been helping tired families sleep since 2007. She is a writer, editor, nationally-published sleep journalist, and author of "Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep Too." Her sleep articles reach millions in respected print publications.

Malia's articles have been featured in over 70 news outlets and publications, including ABC News, Women's Health Magazine, Costco Connection Magazine, Seattle's Child Magazine, ParentMap Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, San Diego Family Magazine,and Cincinnati Family Magazine. She is a contributing writer at Family Time Magazine and Broward Family Life Magazine.

She holds a bachelor's degree in communication and a master's degree in business administration/marketing. When she's not writing, she organizes a popular attachment parenting group in her hometown of Tacoma, Washington, digs in her garden, and explores the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two young daughters.

 

My son has lots of energy and a tough time staying focused, so after he's been sitting still at school all day, the last thing he wants to hear is that it's homework time. Do you have any suggestions?

1. Set aside a designated space for completing homework.

This area should be clear from distractions such as the television.

2. Have your son sit on an exercise ball while he works.

These can be purchased at most department stores. He'll probably think it's fun, and sitting on the ball allows for movement and weight shifting, so he'll be able to release some of that excess energy.To help with focus, you can also give your son a piece of sugar free candy or gum while he's working.

3. Provide plenty of opportunities for movement breaks during homework time.

Remind your son to take a break every 15 minutes to move about. For example, he can complete a brief set of jumping jacks, push-ups, or even jog in place.

4. Finally, it's helpful to have your son make out a homework checklist prior to starting.

He should list the assignments in the order he plans to complete them, and place a box out to the side of each assignment. This will give him a sense of accomplishment as he checks off each completed task.

 

Developmental Pro, Anne Zachry

Anne Zachry, Ph.D. is a pediatric occupational therapist, child development specialist and mother of three. She's had articles published on Parenthood.com, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine online, has written a parenting course for Daily OM, and writes for a variety of regional parenting magazines.

Dr. Zachry's research has been published in national peer-reviewed journals, including The Southern Medical Journal, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, and she's had articles published in her profession's trade magazines, Advance and OT Practice. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, and she has also given numerous presentations to parents and teachers on a variety of topics related to infant and childhood development.

Her websites are Dr. Anne Zachry and Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips.