Understanding insomnia and sleep problems in children

August 5, 2020 5 mins read
Understanding insomnia and sleep problems in children

Many parents are well aware that insomnia in children is quite common and that adults are not the only ones who experience sleep problems. Many children will go months and even years before they will sleep through the night. Whoever invented the term “sleep like a baby” probably did not have a child of their own or their children never dealt with any sleep problems.

Continue reading if you want to get a better understanding of insomnia and sleep problems in children.

What is Insomnia?

When someone has insomnia, it means that they regularly have problems sleeping. Sleep deprivation can have various adverse effects and can make it hard to focus and function optimally throughout the day, and cause damage to the body and brain.

There are two types of insomnia, namely short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic). Acute insomnia can last between one night and a few weeks, and chronic insomnia occurs at least three nights a week for three months or longer.

Some children may only struggle with insomnia for a few days or weeks, while others will struggle for months and even years.

Symptoms of insomnia in children

Children who have insomnia will typically show some of these symptoms:

  • Refusing to go to bed
  • Having trouble falling asleep at night
  • Waking up multiple times a night and early in the morning
  • Struggling to nap
  • Struggling to focus

What causes insomnia in a child?

There are different causes of insomnia in children, but it is predominantly caused by their daytime habits and what they do just before bedtime. Here are a few possible causes:

1. Caffeine consumption and diet

Caffeine can make it difficult for kids to fall asleep as it is a stimulant. Even if your child is not drinking coffee or energy drinks, they can consume caffeine in other products like chocolate and soft drinks.

Ever had a sugar rush? If you give your child a lot of sugar just before bedtime, it might be the reason for their insomnia. Reduce their intake of obvious sugars and look for hidden sugar in the foods you buy.

2. Stress

Stress not only keeps adults up at night. When stress levels are too high, too often, it will negatively affect the wellbeing of your child. Here are a few examples of sources of stress for a child:

  • Problems at home
  • Moving to a new home and school
  • Trouble with friends
  • Being bullied
  • Personal identity issues
  • Schoolwork

3. Medication side effects

Insomnia can be caused by the side effects of drugs like those used to treat ADHD, as well as antidepressants, corticosteroids, and anticonvulsants.

Speak to your doctor if you suspect that medication could be the cause. Also read through the information given with the medication and check if the side effects listed include problems with sleep.

4. Environmental factors

Digital screens emit blue light, which can interfere with sleep by reducing the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. This can reduce the quality and duration of sleep.

Noise can make it difficult to doze off, and if the room is too warm, it can make it harder to fall asleep.

5. Other medical issues

There could be a medical issue to blame for these problems. Some of the medical causes of insomnia include restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and asthma – if it causes a lot of coughing. Due to the itchiness caused by eczema, this can also be a reason why your child has been struggling.

Speaking to your doctor will help you determine if there is an underlying medical condition to address.

How can I help my child with insomnia?

Luckily, there are natural remedies for childhood insomnia. You can avoid using medication (unless it’s necessary) by improving your child’s sleeping habits.

1. Stick to a bedtime schedule

Set a regular bedtime and get your child into a routine. Help sync their natural body clock by setting the same bedtime at night and wake-up time in the morning.

2. Avoid certain foods and drinks

Limit their sugar consumption and only give them sugar earlier in the day to give the body time to get rid of the excess glucose before bedtime. Try offering them water or a glass of milk with dinner instead of a sugary drink.

Limit sources of caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks, soda, and chocolate. If you give them something containing caffeine, stop around lunchtime, so that their body has time to process it before bed.

3. Active lifestyle

Being active throughout the day will help your kids get rid of excess energy and can help to improve sleep duration and quality while also helping combat restlessness. Exercise can improve sleep quality, increase the duration of sleep, and combat restlessness at night.

4. A healthy sleeping environment

Set up your child’s room to promote sleep. You can adjust the lighting and remove all sources of blue light (phones, TVs, tablets, etc.) from the room, and make sure no light is entering the room. 

Reduce the amount of noise in the room if possible. If you live in a busy area and there is a lot of noise around you, then consider earplugs or a white or pink noise machine to distract from the other sounds.

If you have a thermostat, you can adjust to get the room to a cooler temperature before bed, that is great. Otherwise, you can try a cooling pad, turning on a desk fan or giving your child a lukewarm bath before bed.

Learn more about natural remedies for insomnia to give your child the rest they need. Gaining the necessary knowledge is essential for managing sleep problems in children.