Insomnia in Children
What Is Child Insomnia?
Child insomnia is a sleep disorder in which children have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night. Like adults, children with insomnia have troubles going to sleep, staying asleep or they wake up still feeling tired after a normal amount of sleep.
In addition, child insomnia can be classified as short-term and long-term insomnia based on duration, frequency and severity of the problem. Short-term insomnia can last for a few days to several weeks and is usually caused by some illness or certain medication. Long-term insomnia, on the other hand, can last for months or even longer and may be caused by an existing condition such as anxiety, depression, etc.
What Are the Symptoms of Child Insomnia?
Children with insomnia often have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep or they wake up too early in the morning. This may cause them to be sleepy during the day and perform poorly at school due to memory problems and inability to concentrate.
In addition, inability to get enough rest and quality sleep may cause frequent mood swings in children and make them be hyperactive, irritable or even aggressive or, on the contrary, it can cause depression. Children with insomnia will also have discipline problems, make errors or even have accidents.
What Causes Child Insomnia?
One of the reasons why children do not get enough sleep is that they go to bed too late because they have too much homework, are participating in too many activities, or they may simply be up late watching TV, playing video games, texting, talking on the phone, etc.
If their sleep schedule is neatly organized and they are still not getting enough of a good night’s sleep, then there are other possible causes of insomnia which include:
- Stress – Children, just like adults can suffer from stress. Sometimes, certain problems and changes like family problems, recent move to another home, death of a loved one, etc. may put too much strain on them and cause stress. Children worry more than we can imagine and excess worry and stress can lead to insomnia.
- The use of certain medications – Some medications like antidepressants, anticonvulsants, corticisteroids and those used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can cause insomnia.
- Medical issues and other sleep disorders – Some illnesses like a stuffy nose due to allergies or the flu, or nighttime asthma can interfere with sleep. Other disorders such as snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, muscle cramps, restless legs syndrome, fibromyalgia, heartburn, thyroid disease, etc. can cause insomnia as well. Neurodevelopmental disorders such as mental retardation, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome can also disrupt sleep and cause insomnia. Other conditions like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder are also frequently associated with insomnia.
- Use of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol – Energy drinks, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can lead to a poor sleep as well.
- Environmental factors – Noise, heat, cold, and the way how the bedroom is lighted and organized can also interfere with sleep.
Diagnosing Insomnia in Children
There are no special tests that can help diagnose insomnia and diagnosis is based mainly on symptoms, the exclusion of other medical and psychiatric problems as well as other sleep disorders.
Diagnosing insomnia and other sleep disorders in children can be harder than in adults. Adults and older children can complain to doctor and describe exactly what they are experiencing, but when it comes to small children, it is usually their parents who mention it to doctors.
Small children often do not know what’s happening and they are unable to accurately describe their experiences like adults can do, which makes it more challenging to determine whether sleep disorders such as insomnia, are behavioral in origin or biological.
Treating Children With Insomnia
Treating children with insomnia may be tricky and there are several studies that point to some possible treatments for children with severe insomnia.
Some experts consider behavioral treatments the most effective, although children and their parents may resist them. If your child has insomnia, you can consult your doctor, but most of them are not willing to prescribe medication for children.
Many medications and sleeping pills and other aids have not been approved by the FDA for use in children and they are usually not recommended for treating children and teens with insomnia and are used only in special circumstances. Therefore, it is more important to look for some underlying medical, psychological and sleep problems if they exist and treat them first, which may eventually relieve the symptoms of insomnia as well.
Other methods for treating children with insomnia include:
- Establishing good sleep habits – To establish good sleep habits, parents should restrict time their children spend in bed to simply sleeping, which means that they should not allow their children to stay in bed longer than they should, or do their homework and watch TV there. In addition, parents should help their children maintain a regular sleep schedule and establish a bedtime routine that does not include stimulating activities before bedtime such as doing heavy homework and playing video games. Besides this, children should also avoid caffeinated products some 4-6 hours before bedtime, etc.
- Creating a comfortable sleep environment – Keeping the bedroom clean, quiet and dark can stimulate falling asleep faster and staying asleep throughout the whole night. This also includes getting a comfortable mattress such are those we have in our Top 10 Best Mattress Guide and making the bedroom cozy. (Click here to see our top mattress choices.)
- Teaching children how to relax – Soothing and calming music, positive mental imagery and deep breathing can help children relax and fall asleep faster.
- Avoiding arguments or discussion before bedtime – Arguing with children right before bedtime may provoke issues and cause anxiety which will make them unable to fall asleep.
- Getting out of bed – If children don’t fall asleep within 10 to 20 minutes then getting out of bed, leaving the bedroom and doing something quiet such as reading will help them see their bedroom as a place for sleep. This will also help them stop linking their bedroom with not being able to sleep.