Children are little bundles of irrepressible energy. Racing, twirling, chattering and climbing, they burn their way through the day and, in the best circumstances, fall exhausted into bed at night. Yet even the most worn-out parents may pause if their child suddenly seems listless, lies around the house all day, or appears to have generally lost his “zip.”
Beyond making sure he’s getting the requisite amount of sleep for his age, what else could be sapping his energies?
Sound Sleep Matters
Once you’re sure that your child is getting adequate sleep hours for his age, the question that must be asked is whether that sleep is quality sleep. Though he may be in bed for ten to twelve hours a day, if that slumber is frequently interrupted, he may not be getting the refreshment he needs for both brain and body. During the course of a week, check in as he sleeps to see if he displays any of the following behaviors:
•Disturbed By Sound
•Disturbed By Light
A sleeper sensitive to light may benefit from blackout shades to screen out flashes of headlights or the glare of a streetlamp. A sleeper who startles at a sound as soft as a creak on the stair may benefit by providing white noise from a whirring fan, a humming humidifier, or some other device that provides a steady, even static. Kids who snore may have a blockage or constriction of the upper respiratory area due to a cold, allergies, congenital defects, or sleep apnea. Taking care of these common issues will improve sleep considerably.
A child’s metabolism is a fiery, wondrous thing, a furnace that constantly needs to be stoked. Without a steady stream of fuel, the flames will abate. Since young children are still learning how to read the signs of their bodies, they may not recognize that a sinking, tired, low-blood-sugar feeling is actually an indication of impending hunger.
Watch your child’s energy rhythms to see if there’s a specific time of day when she exhibits fatigue. If she tends to flop on the couch around four o’clock in the afternoon, she may be exhausted from the rush of school, but she may also be experiencing a dip in blood sugar. A healthy snack should perk her right up.
The Immune System At Work
An impending sickness, like a cold or flu, is often portended by a growing fatigue as the child’s immune system kicks in to fight the infection. The fatigue should end as the child recovers. However, chronic conditions, like asthma and allergies, can take a toll as well, especially if they’re not yet diagnosed or managed properly. Some viral infections, like the “kissing disease” mononucleosis, have as their primary symptom extended chronic fatigue.
Trouble In School
For older children, complaints of general fatigue and tiredness combined with social isolation can be a signal of emotional, academic, or social distress. Ironically, they may be complaining of tiredness but getting more sleep, because sleep is an effective way to withdraw from the world.
Tweens and teens can be particularly sensitive to changes such as switching schools or a sudden shift of friend or boyfriend alliances. If there have been any sudden life changes, dropping grades, or if your child doesn’t seem to be associating with her old friends, consider if the complaints of fatigue are cloaking a deeper, emotional issue.
Many autoimmune diseases and other, underlying conditions like tuberculosis and severe anemia can manifest fatigue as a primary symptom. So if your exhausted child appears to be eating well, getting ample amounts of quality sleep, and is not suffering any current emotional upheaval, temporary illness, or an already-diagnosed chronic condition, consult your pediatrician. A thorough evaluation may get your child back on track for many, many good nights’ sleep to come.