There are many sleeping issues that babies, children and teens may have. Many of them are the “normal” sleeping issues that almost all parents deal with in the course of raising children: in one way or another, the child isn’t sleeping enough. Perhaps the child isn’t sleeping right through the night, or isn’t going to sleep early enough, or is waking too early. It’s true that some kids wake up too late, but those children usually went to bed too late also. (It’s also true that some kids go to bed on time and get up late, meaning they are getting too much sleep, but this is a relatively rare sleeping problem that is usually attended to by the child’s medical doctor.)
However, there are other fairly common sleeping issues that youngsters may have includiing some of the following:
- suffering from night terrors (screaming with fear without dreaming, can’t be consoled, forgetting it happened)
- suffering from nightmares (experiencing scary dreams, usually remembered upon waking)
- experiencing insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
- suffering from restless leg syndrome (painful or uncomfortable sensations in the limbs that disturb sleep)
- breathing problems like sleep apnea (interrupted breathing that causes snoring and/or waking throughout the night)
- experiencing unrestful sleep
- tooth grinding
There are also other, more rare, disturbances of sleep that can affect people of all ages. If your child has any sleeping problem whatsoever, consider the following tips:
Common Causes of Sleep Issues
The “normal” sleep issues are caused by childhood! Babies just want to be with their parents 24/7 and suck and snack throughout the night. Toddlers also want to be with their parents and tend to wake with the sun. School-aged and older don’t like to go to bed – they are too enthused by life and all its stimulating activities. Adults also often have that problem! In our modern society, light bulbs give us the opportunity to keep active all hours of the day and night and with the exception of a small number of children, adolescents and adults, most people want to stay up too long.
In addition, dietary factors may affect sleep. Having too much caffeine in the evening (available in soda as well as chocolate, coffee and tea) can cause excessive wakefulness at bedtime. Sugar can do the same.
Many sleep problems can be caused by physical and emotional issues. For instance, depression, anxiety and ADD/ADHD are just a few of the many disorders that can affect a child’s ability to sleep well througout the night. Depression can cause wakenings between 1 and 3a.m. or early termination of sleep around 4:30 or 5a.m. Anxiety in the form of “separation anxiety” can prevent children from sleeping happily in their own rooms or their own beds. ADHD can cause problems in settling down to sleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested by sleep. Physical conditions such as chronic pain, itching, breathing problems, endocrine and metabloic diseases, neuromuscular disorders and many other conditions can interrupt sleep. There are also substance-induced sleep disorders caused by alcohol, illegal drugs and medicines.
What can Parents Do?
The normal sleep issues are best addressed by healthy sleep routines (see the articles on “bedtime problems” on this site). Understand that babies and small children normally wake many times in the night and eventually outgrow this practice (with or without help from their parents). You can read all the sleep books you want, but if your child still has waking issues, keep in mind that this is normal in kids up to around 5 years old or so. Nonetheless, always describe your child’s sleeping difficulties to your pediatrician just to rule out medical causes.
Helping Them Fall Asleep
Some babies, kids and teens have trouble getting into sleep mode. They cannot settle down either emotionally or physically or both. It’s as if their “on button” is stuck in the “on” position! These children can benefit from a wide range of interventions that your pediatrician, naturopath and mental health professional can suggest. Be prepared to spend time and effort in experimentation – it takes professionals awhile to diagnose the cause of sleep-onset disturbances and it takes parents time to see which interventions will make a positive difference. Don’t blame your child for having this sort of trouble. He’s probably not very happy with the situation either. Older children and teens may be able to participate in their “cure” by learning relaxation techniques (meditation, visualization, breath work) or modifying their habits (to include more exercise, dietary changes, quieting activities in the evening). Even so, the “how-to” of good sleep hygiene may have to come from a professional rather than the parent. Somehow kids take outside “authorities” more seriously than Mom and Dad.
Getting Them Back to Sleep
It would be less of a problem if those children who woke up didn’t wake their parents up! If they would wake up and then just turn over and go to sleep, it would actually be a totally normal process – humans don’t actually tend to sleep 8 hours straight without interruption. Rather, they wake up frequently during the night but then go quickly back to sleep. Parents work hard to help their youngsters stay asleep all night, but their efforts would be better directed to helping children soothe themselves back to sleep. Again, a team of professionals may be helpful in this regard, offering self-help strategies ranging from relaxation strategies to sniffing essential oils that have been prepared for the occasion. Breathing problems can contribute to frequent waking, as can other physical health conditions, so it is important to talk to your child’s doctor about this symptom. In fact, be sure to tell your child’s doctor everything you can about your child’s sleeping problems. Even if everything checks out fine on the physical front, parents will want to do something up their child’s night time wakefulness. Naturopaths may be of assistance: professional herbalists, for instance, can sometimes create a special tea for the child that will strengthen the youngster’s ability to sleep deeply and steadily through the night. Homeopaths may be able to address the condition as well. Sometimes hypnotherapists or child therapists will have expertise in this area as well. Sometimes nothing will help the child stay asleep, but parents can still help the child to stay in his bed – mental health professionals can provide techniques ranging from positive reinforcement to negative consequences.
Consult a Professional
In any case of sleeping issues, do consider consulting your child’s pediatrician for further advice and guidance.