Most adults are well-acquainted with the occasional bout of insomnia — and some deal with it on a regular basis. This can be due to the stresses of everyday life or worrying about work, family, or finances. But, when it happens in children, it may seem unusual. And, if your child has recurring sleepless nights, you may be genuinely concerned. Is insomnia in children real? If so, what causes it? Are there other symptoms? How can you provide the best treatment possible for your child?
What is insomnia?
Insomnia occurs when a person experiences sleep disturbances. This includes having trouble falling asleep, as well as people who fall asleep easily — but have a difficult time staying asleep throughout the night.
What causes insomnia in children?
Children need more sleep than adults. Depending on their age, this could vary between 12 hours — for toddlers and young children — up to 16 hours for babies. This may include overnight sleeping as well as naps. However, by around five years of age, they can usually go about their day without the need for naps. By the time they’re in their teens, they need between eight to 12 hours. If they are not sleeping enough overnight, they will start experiencing health and behavioral problems.
There are different causes of insomnia in children, depending on whether it’s temporary or long-term. If your child suffers from temporary insomnia, it is usually due to sickness or taking certain medications. On the other hand, long-term insomnia — lasting for a month or longer — may be due to more serious conditions, such as underlying medical problems, depression, or anxiety.
Some of the medical conditions that may cause insomnia in children include asthma, allergies, eczema, heartburn, thyroid disease, or fibromyalgia. In more severe cases, it could be caused by neurodevelopmental disorders.
If the issue is fairly recent, look for less inauspicious causes — such as an uncomfortable mattress, or if their bedroom is too hot or too cold. It may also be helpful to limit screen time before bedtime. Children who spend too much on their electronics take longer to fall asleep and sleep for fewer hours.
Insomnia Symptoms in Children
If your child is old enough, they may complain on their own about their sleeping difficulties. However, if your child is too young to bring it up, it’s useful to recognize telltale signs. These include:
Being sleepy throughout the day
Problems at school
Waking up too early
Making too many errors
Frequently spacing out
Refusing to cooperate with simple requests
There are no specific tests designed to diagnose insomnia. Your child’s pediatrician will determine whether your child suffers from it by discussing symptoms and possible causes.
How to Treat Insomnia in Children
There are several things you can do to treat your child’s insomnia:
1. Establish a Regular Bedtime
Even when they’re on a break from school, have them go to sleep at the same time every night. Ease them into it by establishing a consistent bedtime routine — such as bath time, using a light dimmer in their bedroom, and reading them a bedtime story. Turn off their TVs and tablets at least two hours before going to bed. The blue light from the screen delays the release of melatonin and interferes with your child’s circadian rhythm.
2. Identify Stressors
If your child is of school age, start conversations about how their days at school are going. Ask them about their friends and everyday activities, such as working on class projects and what they do during recess. This may help you identify whether they’re being bullied or experiencing other issues that may be impacting their mental health. If they’ve recently gone through a major life change — such as a move or divorcing parents — talk to their pediatrician about whether they recommend therapy.
3. Limit Caffeine and Sugar Consumption
If your child enjoys the occasional sodas, fruit juice, chocolate milk, or sugary candy, phase them out of their diet gradually. In the meantime, don’t let them have any past lunchtime. Replace their beverages of choice with flavored sparkling water with no added sugars, fruit-infused water, coconut water, or homemade smoothies.
4. Promote a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Keep the thermostat setting in the low to mid-70s. Remove clocks from their bedroom — or turn their face away from their bed. Watching the clock makes it harder to fall asleep, and the light emitting from them can also be disruptive. Make sure their room is as dark as possible. If they are afraid of the dark, install a dim night light instead of leaving a lamp on.
5. Reconsider Medications
Talk with your child’s pediatrician about any medications your child is currently taking. They should only be used sparingly. This includes prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal meds. Sleeping difficulties are also very common in children with an autism spectrum disorder. If your child has autism and is being treated with medications, check whether insomnia is one of the side effects and whether there are alternative forms of treatment.
6. Ask for Help If Stress or Depression May Be Causing Insomnia
While you can be proactive about helping your child manage stress, if your child is dealing with depression, they may need professional help to manage it. From your end, let them know they can always come to you when they’re upset — and make sure not to judge them or become angry when they do. Also, seek medical help if you’ve tried on your own to lessen their stress but symptoms aren’t improving.
Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida
It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids are here to help.
Our home care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.