Sleep problems in children can affect their academic performance, behaviour, weight, health, and social life. Your child could have trouble falling and staying asleep or develop problems such as sleep talking, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea. The causes might vary, but mental and physical health issues are some of them. Continue reading to understand more about these problems.
Sleep Problems in Children
As a parent, you might be concerned that your child is not getting enough sleep at night. While feeling stressed, sleeping in the dark, or getting over bad dreams might be easier for you, your child might not be sleeping well due to these concerns.
Sleep anxiety is one of the common sleep problems in children, with many not knowing how to sleep better with anxiety. With a large capacity for imagination, most children have a fear of the dark. The monsters under the bed or the creature in the cabinet can seem frightening and real. A strange sound from a cat walking outside can also be imagined to be a bogeyman. If your child is having difficulty determining what is real and what is imaginary therefore causing anxiety, this can significantly affect their quality of sleep.
While these fears typically fade during adulthood, it is important to acknowledge and understand your child’s worries. Something as simple as a clothes stand can give their imagination plenty of things to think about. As a parent, it is your responsibility to explain how imaginary things can trick their mind into believing that it is real.
To help your child overcome their sleep anxiety, you can install a sleeping device like a dim nightlight in their bedroom to provide a source of illumination. You could also give them a stuffed toy as a sleep partner to reduce their nighttime fears.
Some children who have bedtime anxiety are might also have bad dreams, with 41% of children between six to 10 years old experiencing nightmares. The prevalence of bad dreams lessens as your child ages and typically fades as they grow up. While an occasional bad dream is normal, there is a chance that this can develop into a nightmare disorder that can wake your child at night. This can cause distress, create sleep anxiety, produce problems with daytime functioning, and lead to other sleep problems in children.
The exact cause of nightmares is not known. But stress, anxiety, certain medications, and watching disturbing horror films before bedtime can trigger bad dreams. Insomnia, sleep-walking, nightmares in parents, hyperactivity, and poor academic performance are also associated with frequent nightmares in children.
Just like helping your child overcome sleep anxiety, you can help them cope with nightmares by reassuring them and discussing their fears during the daytime. If your child thinks that dreams are an indication of a future event, dispel this thinking by telling them that dreams are thoughts that won’t harm them in real life.
There are numerous causes for insomnia in children. This could be another sleep disorder, stress, medications, or the consumption of energy drinks before bedtime. If your child has a condition such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, or depression, they also might have trouble falling and staying asleep. Aside from these causes, if your child is given too much time in bed, they can also develop insomnia.
To prevent insomnia and other sleep problems in children, you can set a bedtime when your child starts getting drowsy in the evening. The bed should only be used for sleep so it can be associated with relaxation.
Ensure that your child can fall asleep on their own without being tucked in so they can build healthy sleeping habits. This way, you don’t have to help them fall back to sleep when they wake up at night. It is also recommended to keep the same sleep schedule on weekends. Lastly, you should solve the root cause, especially if your child has another sleep disorder that is causing their insomnia.
Sleep apnea is a disorder where breathing is affected during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your airway becomes blocked while sleeping so the chest muscles and diaphragm work harder to open it up. In central sleep apnea(CSA), your brain doesn’t tell your muscles to breathe leading to disruptive breathing for a short time.
Among the two types of sleep problems in children, OSA is more common than CSA. It affects up to five percent of children aged between two and eight years old. Snoring is a common symptom, but not all children with this condition snore. Your child could also show symptoms such as coughing, wetting their bed, or walking in their sleep.
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids at the back of the throat and obesity increase the risk of OSA in your child. The use of sedatives, having an overbite, nasal allergies, or a condition such as down syndrome and cerebral palsy are also common risk factors. If your child has these conditions, you can consult a doctor for treatment.
Aside from that. you can also help your child maintain a weight appropriate for their age by feeding them a healthy diet and encouraging them to play during the daytime. Positional therapy is also recommended to improve sleep problems in children. For example, in a study on Body Position and Obstructive Sleep Apnea, children with OSA have been found to breathe better when lying on their back.
Sleepwalking and Sleep Talking
Sleepwalking is one of the sleep problems in children that can be dangerous when neglected. It occurs when your child gets up during sleep without awareness of what they’re doing. They could also sit up, wet the bed, perform repetitive actions and start mumbling. This can occur one to two hours after your child falls asleep.
Other sleep problems in children such as insomnia, sleep apnea, nightmares, and restless leg syndrome can contribute to sleepwalking and sleep talking. If you’re consulting a doctor, they will perform a physical and psychological test to rule out other causes first before recommending a treatment.
If your child is sleepwalking or sleep talking, waking them up can make them feel groggy, disoriented, and scared. Instead, you can guide them back to their bed and lock the doors and windows so your child won’t wander. Replace bunk beds, remove harmful objects in the vicinity, and get rid of clutter that may block their path.
One of the sleep problems in children that can occur during the day is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). This is the irresistible urge to move the legs and is often accompanied by discomfort. This is triggered when resting and lying down and goes away when you walk or move the legs. If you have a family member that has RLS, it increases the risk of your child having it too. Symptoms can be first experienced during childhood and can affect their quality of sleep.
The symptoms of restless legs include stretching, fidgeting, rocking, and changing positions in bed. During the day, your child might also be hyperactive or disruptive due to the discomfort in their leg. RLS is a real medical condition that causes sleep problems in children. Therefore, it should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.
To treat RLS, your doctor might prescribe medication. They will also recommend other sleep home remedies like consuming iron supplements because low levels of this nutrient can cause and worsen RLS. In addition to that, good sleep habits will also be helpful.
Importance Of Sleep For Children
Sleep problems in children can affect their day-to-day life. For example, your child might be hyperactive one moment and then irritable a few minutes later. They might also have trouble paying attention to instructions and have poor academic performance. Lack of sleep during childhood is also associated with a weak immune system, anxiety, and refusal to go to school, allergies, and more.
Sleep is important for your child because childhood is a phase when their bodies and minds are actively growing and developing. It can impact their moods, learning and memory, attention, and language development.
How to Ensure that Your Child is Getting Enough Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a multidisciplinary expert panel convention to form sleep duration recommendations for every age. You can use the following as a guide to reduce sleep problems in children. An allowance of an hour more or less is given and may be suitable for your child.
- 0-3 months old: 14-17 hours
- 4-11 months old: 12-15 hours
- 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
- 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
- 6-13 years old: 9-11 hours.
These recommended sleep duration include the naps during the day and the total sleep at night. Follow these tips to reduce sleep problems in children.
- Develop a consistent bedtime routine that includes putting on the pyjamas, brushing the teeth, and winding down with a relaxing activity. You can sing a lullaby, take your child for a bath or read a light novel.
- Avoid exposure to computers, TV screens, and video games at night.
- Make the bedroom cosy and relaxing. Choose a high-quality mattress, set the thermostat to a cooler temperature, use dark curtains to block out light, and use a dim nightlight.
- Give your child a stuffed toy or a small pillow to help them calm down and sleep better at night.
Learn More About Sleep Problems In Children From Sleep Science
If you want to improve the sleep quality of your child, the first step is knowing the different sleep problems in children. Being attentive to the symptoms can help you decide the next actions you should take to provide a better sleep environment. This way, your child can function to their full capacity during the day and enjoy their childhood.