We all have a restless night or two, but for some insomnia can be more challenging. Insomnia is the inability to sleep. The person wants to sleep and may even feel tired, but just cannot sleep. Some describe difficulty falling asleep, while others have difficulty staying asleep. When I experience insomnia, I feel like my mind cannot shut off. Can you imagine how frustrating this must be for a child or teen experiencing this? They cannot understand why they cannot sleep, nor what to do.
A study that reviewed a cohort of five hundred children for 15 years, found that 43 percent of children had chronic insomnia. Of those children with insomnia, more than half continued with insomnia into their teenage years and 62 percent had insomnia as adults. It is vital that we address this issue in children, so that they do not carry these issues into adulthood.
Insomnia may be due to poor sleep habits, lack of exercise, anxiety, depression, caffeine, or even certain medications. Healthy sleep is crucial for a healthy life. A lack of sleep can affect your child’s grades, standardized tests, their immune system, athletic performance, moods, and even contribute to weight gain.
You can tell when your child has had enough sleep, as they will wake naturally. Infants need 12-16 hours (including naps), toddlers need 11-14 hours (including naps), preschoolers need 10-13 hours (including naps), grade-schoolers need 9-12 hours, and teens need 8-10 hours.
Eat dinner at a routine hour. Eating too early or too late can interfere with sleep. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine is in tea, coffee, energy drinks, chocolate, and soda.
Allow for activity during the day. Daily movement assists with rest. Children should have one hour of exercise daily but avoid overscheduling. Limiting extracurricular activities allows for a healthy balance in the schedule.
Monitor screen time. Screens include computer, video games, phones, and TVs. Limit your child’s screen time to less than 2 hours daily. Avoid screens in the bedroom. Turn off all electronic devices one hour before bedtime as the light suppresses the body’s natural release of melatonin, which makes one drowsy. Leave cell phones charging on the kitchen counter before turning in for the night.
You can model and teach healthy sleep habits. Have a daily bedtime routine. For younger children, use the 4 Bs: bath, brush teeth, book, and bed. Most children take 20-30 minutes to wind down before sleep. Beds are for reading and resting. Avoid using beds to do homework or play with toys. Help your child feel safe in their room. Check for monsters under the bed. It is fine to use a dim night-light, but not a bright light. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet.
We all have worries. Talk to your child before bed about any concerns. Write their concerns down to think about tomorrow. For a younger child, consider utilizing “worry dolls,” assigning each doll a worry to hold under the pillow while the child sleeps. According to the Guatemalan legend, by morning, the dolls will have given the child wisdom to deal with the concerns. (My daughter loved this.)
Keep regular bedtimes and wake times (even on weekends). Try not to vary sleep or wake times by more than one hour. Keep naps early and short. Young children will nap until 3-5 years of age. Keeping naps short and early in the day will help with nighttime sleep.
Consider using melatonin, a supplement which helps with drowsiness. Check with your pediatric healthcare provider before giving your child supplements or medication. If your child has issues with sleep, reach out to your pediatric healthcare provider, especially if you notice snoring. Correcting poor sleep patterns in children may prevent long-term sleep issues into adulthood.