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Insomnia in Children

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Is your child having trouble sleeping? Sleep is an important part of a child’s life and lack of sleep can lead to negative consequences. If you are noticing that your child is not sleeping well, it is important for you to educate yourself about insomnia. By doing so, you can help your child get a better night’s sleep and improve his or her well being and health.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder.  In children and adults the symptoms of insomnia are basically the same, waking up in the middle of night, waking too early, or struggling with falling asleep. Short-term insomnia occurs just a few days per week for only one or two weeks while long-term insomnia occurs around three or more times per week and lasts for more than three months. Insomnia can have a direct impact on your child’s daytime functioning. It can lead to aggressive behavior, difficulties with learning and concentration, and inability to exert normal emotional control. Although insomnia is a common problem for children, cases that are not too severe can be treated at home. In rare cases, the root of insomnia might be a deeper neurological issue, but many factors regarding insomnia can be explored through behavioral analysis.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of insomnia include the following:

  • Struggling to fall asleep
  • Waking up in the middle of the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling sleepy during the day
  • Displaying aggressive or disruptive behavior at school
  • Lacking focus and concentration
  • Demonstrated stress and being afraid of bedtime and falling asleep
  • Memory loss

What are the causes?

The many causes of insomnia include the following:

  • Stress:  Stress is the most common cause of insomnia. A child’s stress triggers are usually family, friends and school. Children are more prone to insomnia when they are facing huge transitions in life such as their parents’ divorce, death of a family member, changing schools or bullying.
  • Stimulants:  For adults, most stimulants which cause insomnia are things like alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine. However, for most children, these stimulants are not so common. The stimulants that are more common for children are energy drinks and sodas (which may contain significant amounts of caffeine), medication like antidepressants, or drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder.
  • Environment:  Insomnia can be caused by an uncomfortable sleeping environment – a place that is noisy, colorful or too light-filled can disturb the child’s sleep.
  • Psychiatric disorder:  Insomnia is common among children who are suffering from depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder.

How is it treated?

If your child is suffering from long-term insomnia, the best course of action is to consult a doctor immediately. However, if it is just short-term insomnia, it is possible for parents to provide the correct treatment at home, especially since medication is not always the best option for young children and adolescents. Here are a few tips to help your child overcome their struggle:

  • Create a good sleeping environment:  Make sure your child is in a bedroom where the mattress is comfortable and the atmosphere is safe. There should be no bright lights or only a dim one if the child is afraid of the dark. The temperature should be suitable and there must be no disturbances from outside noises.
  • Establish a bedtime:  The child should not be allowed to negotiate their bedtime and the parents must help maintain a consistent sleeping routine. If your child wants to hear a bedtime story or watch a movie before bed, separate time should be planned for that.
  • Keep a sleep journal:  Document when your child goes to sleep and wakes up. Make note of when the child gets up in the middle of the night or any other sleeping patterns. When you take your child to the doctor, this journal will be useful for treatment and further diagnosis.
  • Plan:  Do not let your child consume any stimulants before bed. Avoid sodas, energy drinks or sweet snacks. Remove the clock from the bedroom if your child experiences pressure to fall asleep.
  • Relaxation:  Teach your child simple relaxation exercises. They can be counting or breathing exercises which might help lull your child to sleep.
  • Get up:  If your child cannot sleep, encourage him or her to get up instead of tossing and turning. The child can walk around or engage in a relaxation exercise for 10-20 minutes before going back to bed again, which may help them to relax.

References.

  1. Cleveland Clinic: Children’s – Insomnia in Children. Available from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/childrens-hospital/health-info/diseases-conditions/hic-Insomnia. Accessed on April 22, 2015.
  2. About.com – Insomnia in Children: Childhood Sleep Basics. Available from http://pediatrics.about.com/od/sleep/a/0107_insomnia.htm. Accessed on April 22, 2015.
  3. Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine – Childhood Insomnia. Available from http://www.behavioralsleep.org/childhoodinsomnia.aspx.  Accessed on April 22, 2015.
  4. Kid’s Health – What To Do If You Can’t Sleep?  Available from http://kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/body/cant_sleep.html?tracking=K_RelatedArticle. Accessed on April 22, 2015.

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