It’s likely that every parent has experienced the hardship of having a child who has trouble sleeping at night at one point or another. Some children even suffer from pediatric insomnia, a sleep disorder less likely than adulthood insomnia but more crucial to identify and correct for proper development.
No one wants to watch their child suffer, especially when it takes away from your own sleep. For the sake of your family’s sleep health, learn how to help your child find better sleep consistently.
How can I know my child needs help?
When you’re a first-time parent, it’s difficult to discern which behaviors are normal for children and which are not. It’s probable that your intuition will lead you to determine when your child has an actual issue standing in the way of proper sleep, but in case it isn’t obvious, here are a few signs you can look out for:
- Low energy levels during the day
- Trouble falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Late-night visits climbing into your bed
- Trouble falling back asleep after waking
- Waking up extremely early (before the sun rises)
- Trouble concentrating during the day
- Exhibiting anxiety, irritability, or mood swings throughout the day
- Hyperactive/aggressive during the day
Identifying the cause
There can be many causes leading to your child’s difficulties sleeping:
If the issue seems to come out of nowhere, recent changes in your child’s life such as an introduction to a new medicine or a seasonal change causing allergies may be the cause. Additional caffeine in your child’s diet or obstructed airways could be temporary issues preventing proper sleep. Excess energy can also alter a child’s sleep schedule. If your child’s activity levels have recently reduced, this could be the cause of their restlessness.
Conditions interfering with sleep
If your child has suffered from insomnia for an extended period of time, there may be a deeper issue at the root of the problem. Any sources of anxiety, stress, or depression can make it challenging to sleep at night. Your child could also be suffering from a condition such as sleep apnea, asthma, or restless legs syndrome.
An improper sleep environment could also be the cause for your child’s restlessness. If you have excessive noise in your house or outside, that could make it difficult for your child to stay in a deep sleep state at night. Intrusive lighting can also present challenges in the bedroom, along with an uncomfortable bed, a hot temperature, or a cluttered room.
Taking the next steps
After identifying the cause of your child’s insomnia, or if you are at a loss for what could be disrupting your child, it may be time to consult with a licensed professional or sleep specialist.
A professional can run tests on your child to deduce the problem and provide proper treatment. This may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), over-the-counter medications, or melatonin supplements.
However, if the cause is temporary, behavioral, or environmental, there are steps you can take to help your child at home.
Optimizing their sleep environment
If you live in a busy city, avoiding late night noises may be impossible, but a simple way to block them out is to use a white noise machine to mask background noises. If light is an issue, hanging up blackout curtains are an easy way to knock out that problem. It’s also important to have a cool temperature between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit for your child’s best night’s sleep. If you exhaust all of your options, there may be an underlying issue preventing your child’s comfort — their mattress. A bed is only good for about seven to ten years, and an individual’s preferences are important in finding the best bed. Overall, you should do what you can to make sure your child’s room is quiet, dark, and comfortable for their best night’s sleep.
It’s important that you help develop a healthy, regular routine for your child. They should be going to sleep and waking up at the same time each night, even on the weekends. Creating a pattern helps your child’s body understand when they should be awake and asleep. To further enforce this, helping your child create a wind down routine will signal that it’s time for bed. This can include a warm bath, turning off the electronics, reading a book, or other relaxing activities. Also, while napping during the day is normal for children, you should start to limit the naps as your child ages. This will make falling asleep each night less of a battle.
Employ healthy daily practices
You should make sure your child is getting a healthy amount of physical activity daily and maintaining a healthy diet as well. Burning energy throughout the day helps your child go to bed ready for sleep instead of fighting it. You should avoid allowing your child to eat heavy meals at least within two hours of bedtime. For light snacks, you can provide cottage cheese, warm milk, yogurt, or other foods with melatonin or tryptophan. Also, make sure to avoid caffeine as that will have an adverse effect for helping your child sleep.