When most people think about who is likely to suffer sleep problems they make think other adults like themselves. However, more and more parents are finding that their kids exhibit symptoms of childhood insomnia.
30-40% of parents find their children (between ages 2-14) have trouble going to sleep or refuse to go to sleep. There may be a reason these symptoms started, and it’s possible to help treat it. If you want to find out the causes and tips you can use to help your child get the rest they should be getting, keep reading.
Does Your Child Suffer From Insomnia?
Plenty of moms and dads associate a crying infant or child tossing and turning in bed with eyes wide awake as a sleep disturbance. While this is true, altered behavior is perhaps the most notable change during the mornings.
Not only will children with insomnia have issues going to sleep or remaining asleep, but they may also show signs of irritability, aggressiveness, mood swings, memory issues, hyperactivity, and lowered attention.
If you want to determine whether or not your little one truly suffers from the sleeping disorder, you should know the recommended time of sleep they should get. You can refer to this quick age group chart:
- Infants (4 months – 1 year): 12-16 hours (plus naps)
- Toddlers (1-2 years old): 11-14 hours (plus naps)
- Kids (3-5 years old): 10-13 hours (plus naps)
- Kids (6-12 years old) 9-12 hours
- Teenagers (13-18) 8-12 hours
Other symptoms to look out for are difficulty concentrating at school or home, particularly if a teacher mentions this and crashing far earlier than their typical bedtime. They may sleep often during car rides or space out a lot even during conversations.
Causes of Childhood Insomnia
Sometimes the main reason a child is unable to sleep is because they go to bed late. They may spend far too much time watching TV, playing games, or texting with their friends. If your child has caffeine in their system, this could also invoke a sleep disturbance.
Infants are likely to suffer from food allergies, gastroesophageal reflux, ear infections, chronic diseases, or colic that cause insomnia. Toddlers may suffer from sleep due to fear, parental separation anxiety, acute infections, and chronic diseases as well such as autism or eczema.
Preschoolers have similar causes to toddlers. Teens too, but the cause may stem more from family or school pressure, depression, and psychiatric disorders. If your child has asthma or sleep apnea, they are more likely to have trouble sleeping.
There are also two types of insomnia a child may have: SOAD or limit-setting SD. In sleep-onset association disorder (SOAD), kids learn to sleep with a condition present (could be an object or circumstance), requiring intervention.
In limit-setting SD, parents have a difficult time getting their kids to follow sleep rules. Knowing which type your child has can help you use the best strategies.
Strategies to Help Your Child Sleep
It is rare for a child to be aware of a sleep issue or complain about problems sleeping. It is up to parents to recognize them. Parents who have a toddler or infant are most likely to be aware of sleep disturbances.
However, it is possible to recognize it in older kids too. Once you determine your child has sleep insomnia, there are a few strategies you can try.
Create a Sleep Hygiene Routine
You should try setting a routine first by limiting activities prior to sleep or on the bed. This means no homework, TV, or reading. Limiting drinks, especially anything with caffeine (coffee, soda, chocolate) is important.
Providing a light snack is acceptable as it prevents the child from sleeping on a hungry or overly full stomach. Enforcing these limits and providing positive reinforcement by making a reward system will help your child follow the routine.
Your child’s room should be quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. The most comfortable mattress you could give your child to aid in sleep provides pressure relief and alignment support. Your child should only use the bed for sleeping.
Behavioral therapy help to get rid of negative thoughts that cause childhood insomnia. In one technique, known as gradual extinction, you allow infants to sleep while ignoring tantrums, crying, or yelling. This allows children to learn self-comfort and sleep alone.
Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. If you notice your child can’t sleep with 30 minutes of the set time, allow them to do a calming activity that will get them sleepy.
Once you find a time they learn to sleep on their own, put them to sleep around that time. Relaxation techniques like deep breaths, meditation, music, and visualization can also help. Consider making a 2-week sleep diary to help track progress.
There is drug therapy available too, but it is best to use it as a last resort. It’s better to seek and correct underlying psychological and medical issues first. It is also important to note there is no true approved drug for childhood insomnia.
With that said, if you use pharmacological intervention make sure it acts on the symptom (anxiety, pain). You should also treat disorders such as apnea first before medication by removing their tonsils first, for example.
All medication should be appropriate for their age and you must also weigh the benefits against side effects. Common drugs are antihistamines (Diphenhydramine), alpha-agonists (Clonidine), Melatonin, benzodiazepines (Xanax), and tricyclic antidepressants (Amitriptyline)
Correcting the Sleep Problem
Childhood Insomnia has a variety of causes, so there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all treatment. When you want to address your child’s inability to get restful sleep, you are more likely to succeed if you can narrow down the cause. From there, you can try proper methods that work.
So long as you recognize the sleep abnormality exists, there is a way to resolve it. So you don’t have to worry about it being permanent. There are also times the sleep insomnia is limited and goes away on its own.
Don’t attempt to wait it out too long though. There are consequences of inadequate sleep needed for a growing child.
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