Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a child struggles to fall asleep or has trouble staying asleep.
While insomnia is common in adults, it is less so in children. Sleep is crucial for proper childhood development, so it's important to make sure your child is getting enough.
Most insomnia in children is related to behavior. The four types of insomnia that affect kids include:
Young children may associate bedtime with certain actions, objects or settings. If your child is used to being rocked to sleep or if she drinks from a particular bottle at bedtime, she may have trouble falling asleep under different circumstances.
Older children may refuse to go to sleep or delay sleep in the absence of strictly enforced bedtimes. Between 10 and 30 percent of children have the limit-setting form.
Habits that keep adolescents from going to sleep or disrupt the sleep schedule are known as inadequate sleep hygiene. Between 1 and 2% of teens and young adults have this type of insomnia.
A fourth type of insomnia in kids is one that doesn't have a recognizable cause and may run in families. Idiopathic insomnia is extremely rare, affecting fewer than 1% of children.
The National Institutes of Health recommends:
If your child isn't getting enough sleep, see your pediatrician.
A pediatrician will want to know your child’s sleep history and may ask if sleep disorders run in your family. The doctor will perform a physical exam to rule out medical conditions that may be behind your child’s insomnia. He may also recommend a sleep study (polysomnogram).
During the sleep study, your child will spend the night in a sleep lab. Polysomnography records eye movements, brain activity, heart rate and blood pressure. It also can tell how much oxygen is in your child’s blood and how much air is moving through his nose while he breathes. A sleep study can rule out other sleep disorders that may be behind the insomnia.
Aside from behavioral or genetic reasons, other things that may cause insomnia in children include:
Not only can insomnia affect childhood development, it can cause sleeplessness for the whole family. Kids with insomnia may keep parents up at night or begin a power struggle when it's time to wake up. Insomnia may impact your child's grades and social life as well.
Changing your child's sleep habits (sleep hygiene) is usually the first step to tackling insomnia. Steps you can take at home:
If you've done all the above and your child still can't sleep, see a doctor. A sleep specialist may recommend the following treatments depending on your child's symptoms:
Children with insomnia may have trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep after waking during the night. Kids with insomnia are often groggy or distracted during the day. They may also be anxious, irritable or experience mood swings. Aggressiveness, hyperactivity and poor impulse control can be symptoms of insomnia as well.
By regulating children’s bedtimes, most insomnia eventually goes away. There aren’t usually any long-term effects from childhood insomnia.