Insomnia in Children

Insomnia in children is a common occurrence and can occur at any age. Like adults children with insomnia have trouble going to sleep, staying asleep or are not well rested after a normal amount of sleeping. Unlike adults not getting a good night’s sleep can affect your child’s mood and behavior during the day creating school and discipline problems. Also be aware that children unlike adults seem to get energized from lack of sleep. It is not unusual to see children who are exhausted with exuberant energy, moving about almost frantically. 

Symptoms of Insomnia in Children

Some of the symptoms of insomnia in children are the following:


Irritability


Mood swings


Hyperactivity


Depressed mood


Aggressiveness


Decreased attention span


Memory problems.


Be aware that your child can exhibit one or a combination of the symptoms listed above.

Common Causes of Insomnia in Children

Children between the ages of 6 and 12 need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Teens need about 9 hours each night. On the average it takes approximately 40 minutes to fall asleep once your child is in bed. If you set realistic bedtimes for your child and he/she is still not getting a good night’s sleep some of the other things you can look at are: 

Lifestyle factors of diet and exercise


Stress


Unfamiliar or uncomfortable sleep environment


Change in daily routine


Acute or chronic medical condition


Obstructive sleep apnea


Side effect of medications, including stimulants used to treat ADHDand antidepressants


Depression


Anxiety


Restless leg syndrome


Psychophysiologic (“learned”) insomnia


Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, mental retardation, and asperger’s syndrome

Two Classifications of Child Insomnia

Acute Insomnia(short term, transient) evidenced by a child not sleeping up to two nights for a couple of weeks.


Chronic Insomnia(long term) indicated by a child not sleeping up to three times a week for up to a month.


Treating Insomnia in Children

If your child’s insomnia is chronic look first at their lifestyle. If your child spends long hours looking at the TV, listening to music or playing video games this could be affecting the nerves which will effect your child’s sleeping patterns. If this type of entertainment is a major part of your child’s leisure activity and you think it could be affecting their sleeping ability start slowly and gradually to change their habits. Introduce other activities like exercise or watching a somber quiet movie without extreme behavior or violence instead of long hours of TV. Spend time with your child playing a game, reading a book or doing a craft activity right before bedtime. Spending extra time and encouraging your child to increase good habits will not only help decrease their insomnia but also increase their self-esteem. Putting these activities in place 1 to 2 hours before bedtime will help your child to change to a slower gear, creating a calmer physiological and psychological state of being enhancing their ability to fight off their insomnia. 

Non-medicated treatments for child insomnia

Having a very consistent schedule of bedtime and wake up time


Teaching your child relaxation techniques, including diaphragmatic breathing, visual imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.


Stop stimulating activities 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime


Avoid caffeine products after 4 pm or all together


Establish a bedtime routine that’s peaceful and calm, such as having a warm bath or reading a book


Provide a relaxed environment for your child at night. Turn the lights down and play soothing music.


Exercising regularly.


Create a familiar environment for your child with a blanket, pillow or sleep toy/stuffed animal


If you think your child is experiencing stress, encourage him/her to talk about it.


Introduce to your child to counting sheep, or count backwards from 100 with his/her eyes closed.


Child insomnia can lead to major health conditions so seeking help for your child’s chronic insomnia should be taken seriously. Take your child to your pediatrician to discover if your child’s insomnia is a medical condition. If this is not the problem seeking the help of a mental health counselor or child’s psychiatrist is important. 



Please contact me at juliann@mychildtherapist.com for questions.


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