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Children need at least 10 hours of sleep each night for proper growth and development. When they do not get the recommended duration of sleep, they are more prone to behavioural issues and a few health conditions as well. Hence, if your deep sleeper suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night or refuses to go to sleep for days together, you will need to seek medical help for the same.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleeping disorder which prevents that child from falling asleep at night or staying asleep. A child with insomnia may also wake up unusually early and may not be able to go back to sleep.
How Common Is It In Kids?
Insomnia is commonly an adult issue but may be found in children too. The causes of adult insomnia are primarily different from that of children. Kids usually have the problem of behavioural insomnia and as many of 25% of the children can experience this at some point in their childhood.
Types of Sleep Problems in Kids
In children, insomnia is usually related to behaviour. The three major types of insomnia in children are:
- Sleep Onset Association: In infants and toddlers insomnia of this kind is common as they associate sleep time with a certain activity like being rocked or cuddled. In the absence of these, toddlers and infants may have trouble falling asleep. Other factors like the lighting in the room, the temperature or specific noises may also make the room a less conducive atmosphere for the kids to sleep in, thus keeping them awake.
In older children, insomnia caused by sleep onset association is usually due to the presence of a certain item in the room like a phone, computer or TV. Children may not be able to sleep as the content presented on these devices may be very appealing and also the light emitted can prevent the release of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone.
- Limit Setting Insomnia: When children, especially older children, are not given strict sleep times they may refuse to go to sleep and forcefully engage in other activities. They may even ask for an additional bedtime story or a glass of water to delay the sleeping time. This irregular sleep pattern can also affect the circadian rhythm in the child.
- Inadequate Sleep Hygiene: A good set of habits like avoiding the screen or not consuming caffeine products can help induce a good quality sleep. However, many children, especially teens and adolescents lack proper sleep hygiene which can prevent them from falling asleep.
There may be several reasons for insomnia in children. Some of the common causes of insomnia in children are:
Stress can be one of the major reasons for insomnia in kids. Children are impacted largely by the incidences around them. A stress environment at home, being bullied at school, relocation to a different city or any other fears may be the core cause of lack of sleep in many children. It is essential for parents to identify the cause of stress and provide the mental and emotional support necessary to alleviate stress and anxiety in children.
- Stimulant Usage
Children, mostly teenagers may have the habit of consuming a large amount of soda on a daily basis. Soda, like coffee, contains caffeine that prevents them from sleeping at night. Products with nicotine can also disrupt sleep.
If your child is on medication for depression or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), he may have trouble falling asleep. These drugs are known to alter and affect sleeping pattern in children. Corticosteroids used for allergies and asthma and anticonvulsants used for seizures can also cause insomnia in children.
- Medical conditions, Psychiatric Conditions and Other Sleep Disorders
Children with medical conditions like depression and anxiety tend to have a problem falling asleep. Other medical conditions like asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, muscle cramps, etc., may also disturb sleep in children.
Neurodevelopment conditions like ADHD, autism and Asperger’s syndrome are also known to cause insomnia.
5. Environmental Factors
Children tend to get affected significantly by a change in the sleep conditions like temperature, lighting, and noise. Uncomfortable mattresses may also contribute to the problem. Phones, video games, and computers can also be a major cause of distraction for children in the process of falling asleep.
Symptoms of insomnia in children include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Disturbed sleep or waking up from sleep in the middle of the night
- Waking up very early
- Not being able to fall asleep again once awake
- Drowsiness throughout the morning
- Lack of focus on a task or getting easily distracted
- Chronic tiredness or fatigue
- Behavioral issues like moodiness or erratic behaviour
- Poor performance in school and disciplinary problems in school
- Memory problems
Diagnosis of insomnia in children can be done by collecting the sleep history of your child. The doctor may even inquire about the prevalence of any sleep disorders in your family. A physical examination may be conducted to rule out the possibility of any underlying medical conditions that may have caused insomnia.
The doctor may also recommend a polysomnogram or a sleep study to find out about any sleep disorders that your child may have. This study is conducted overnight in a sleep lab where your child’s blood oxygen level, eye movements, heart rate, blood pressure and brain activity are measured.
Challenges With Insomnia
Children are often not articulate enough to communicate to the doctors about the symptoms they are facing. The observation and the communication are left to the parent. Also, since insomnia can often be a symptom of a different condition, the process of diagnosis may be long and tedious. As opposed to adults, children cannot provide first-hand information about their insomnia to the doctor.
Treatment for Lack of Sleep in Children
Treatment for insomnia is given based on the diagnosis. Some of the standard treatment procedures or cures for insomnia in children include:
- Behavioral Therapy: When insomnia is related to behavioural problems or is caused by an underlying psychological disorder, you will need to subscribe to cognitive behavioural therapies of hypnotherapies for your child. Sleep onset association insomnia and limit setting insomnia may be treated in this way.
- Lifestyle Changes: Provide the child with a good diet and a comfortable atmosphere to sleep in. Remove any distractions and devices that can create noise or keep your child awake.
- Follow A Routine: Children with the luxury of a flexible routine may refuse to go to sleep. Following a strict bedtime can provide structure to the child. You can also begin a bedtime ritual to help induce sleep, like a reading him a story or bathing him before bedtime.
- Promote Sleep Hygiene: Limit exposure to phones, TV or computer screen before bedtime. Do not allow your child to consume any stimulants like sugar or caffeine before going to bed.
- Melatonin: You can check with your child’s doctor if melatonin supplements can be given to children to induce sleep. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that is naturally produced by the body.
- Medications: Child insomnia medication is not prescribed by most doctors. You may discuss with your doctor if medication is a suitable choice for your child. Over the counter drugs like Antihistamines may be used in children with insomnia but is known to make the child sleep during the day.
- Relax: Help your child relieve any stress with simple relaxation techniques before bed. This can be a key factor in promoting good sleep.
If your child is suffering from insomnia, it is best to first try out some of the home remedies for insomnia in kids, before you opt for medications. Most short-term insomnia can be treated with the help of home remedies.
- Sleep satchels filled with flowers and herbs that create a soothing atmosphere for your kid. You can use lavender flowers, dried chamomile flowers, rosebuds and lemon balm.
- Give a cup of chamomile tea with sugar to your child before going to bed to induce sleep.
- Drawing a warm bath for your child with relaxing aromatic oils like chamomile and lavender and help induce sleep. Only use a few drops of these oils in your child’s bath.
- Food rich in magnesium like almonds, green leafy vegetables can help relax the mind and promote sleep.
- Wild lettuce can also be consumed to promote sleep effectively.
- Valerian root can be given in the form of tea or supplements in small doses to children. The root is a natural sedative and can prevent your child from waking up in the middle of his sleep.
- Passionflower can be given in the form of supplements to relieve anxiety in children.
- John’s Wort is a natural supplement for depression and can be given to children with insomnia caused by anxiety and depression.
- You may even try giving your child a glass of warm milk before bed to help soothe him.
- Exercises and physical activity in children is a great way to promote sleep in most children.
Lack of sleep can have severe ramifications for the development of your child. If you little one does not get enough sleep in his growing years, his cognitive development may slow down due to lack of rest. It is essential to identify the cause of sleeplessness and discuss with your doctor about how to help a child with insomnia. Timely intervention and help can help your child overcome this problem.
Also Read: Effective Ways to Deal With a Stubborn Child