Chronic Sleep Problems with Children

It’s never easy when your child is having health problems of any kind, but chronic sleep problems in children can be overwhelming, especially since these sleep issues can affect more than just bedtime. Some parents may think that their young child’s sleep problems will fade once they grow a little older, however, about one quarter of children who are school age have chronic sleep troubles.

Getting enough sleep is extremely important for the formation of children’s bodies and minds as they grow, and not getting the recommended hours of sleep per night can be detrimental to a child’s development. They can become angry or aggressive, tired and cranky, have trouble focusing, and even exhibit signs of ADHD – all due to a lack of sleep. These issues can also lead to problems with school because it is difficult for them to concentrate and remember facts when they are not getting the amount of sleep that they need.

One common culprit for sleepless children is not getting enough exercise. The activity levels a child has during the day can greatly affect how they sleep at night, and not getting enough physical activity can lead to sleep problems. Being involved with team sports such as soccer or basketball are excellent ways to get a good workout. However, if your child doesn’t play sports, try getting them involved in another physical activity you think they will enjoy such as swimming or martial arts.

Another issue that is common with children who don’t get enough exercise is spending too much time in front of a computer or television screen. The light from the screens disrupts the brain cycle and complicates their sleep/wake patterns, making it more difficult for your child to fall asleep. (Note: this also applies to adults.) Making sure that your child gets adequate exercise during the day and turning off the computer screens or televisions at least thirty minutes before bedtime will help to alleviate some of their sleep issues.

Another problem for your child’s sleep may be waking in the middle of the night. If your child goes to sleep just fine, but tends to be groggy before dinner or is consistently tired at school, then they may be waking in the middle of the night. Common causes of this are sleep apnea, asthma or allergies. Talk to your family doctor about any symptoms that your child may have like snoring, coughing or wheezing to see what kind of treatments may be available.

Anxiety may be another issue for your child. Sometimes their fears of things from school like failing grades or tests can keep them up at night. Sometimes thinking about things that may happen like fires or someone breaking in the house may keep them up as well. Signs that your child may be suffering from anxiety are crying at bedtime, refusing to close their eyes even though they are visibly tired, or asking for water or hugs before you leave.

If your child exhibits some of these signs there are a couple of different things you can do. Try having them write down their fears before going to sleep and talking with you about any fears they may still have in the morning. If they have severe or lingering fears you might want to speak with a mental health professional.

Just know that these are all common issues that many families experience. By paying attention to your child’s needs, exercise, diet, and fears you can work through their sleep problems together. If you have any persistent problems or concerns, speaking with a doctor is advised.