Insomnia In Children: Causes And Treatments

A child with insomnia is lying down on the bed.

Insomnia in children is not as uncommon as you might think. About 25% of all children get behavioral insomnia, which can make the life of your child and the whole family very difficult.

Behavioral insomnia is one of the most common causes of insomnia in children. Among other reasons of insomnia are mental and physical health disorders like autism, ADHD, attention deficit disorder and depression.

Behavioral insomnia is characterized by:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Hard time maintaining sleep
  • Rejection of going to bed
  • Sleeping in the daytime
  • Constant tiredness and even aggression

Behavioral insomnia is a type of insomnia that is caused more by sleeping habits and the personal development of your child rather than his/her mental or physical characteristics. Thus, it is important to treat the behavioral disorder in children. Moreover, if behavioral insomnia is left untreated it can proceed to all stages of childhood development and even into the adulthood causing physical and mental harm to your child's body.

Undoubtedly, having a good night sleep is vital for the proper mental and physical development of young children. Inadequate and insufficient sleep patterns could negatively affect all spheres of your child's health and life including cognitive development, ability to retain attention and overall satisfaction with life. Furthermore, chronic lack of sleep may even cause diabetes, heart problems, obesity, mood swings and anxiety disorders in adulthood.

Sleep medications for kids

A baby girl in a pink dress is sleeping.

There are numbers of medications that aim to help children with sleep problems. Moreover, about 80% of all children who are diagnosed with insomnia are prescribed medications. Nonetheless, there are no FDA approved medications that could be considered safe for children's use. Research suggests that sleep medications for kids may have a fast positive effect on sleep patterns but are not effective in the long-term or after you stop taking them. In other words – they are only effective as long as you are taking them and there are concerns about the safety and side effects of sleep medications for kids. Instead, changing sleep patterns and sleep hygiene should be the number one priority in treating behavioral insomnia in children.

Natural Remedies To Treat Your Child’s Insomnia

Lavender fields.

Natural remedies for insomnia consist of various traditional herbs and plants with calming and soothing effect. Among them: chamomile tea, lavender aromatherapy, gentle Epsom salt bath, massage therapy before bedtime, etc. Intake of caffeinated drinks like black or green tea, high-sugar drinks like sodas or flavored kinds of milk should be avoided before bedtime.

How Much Your Child Should Be Sleeping?

A little baby is sleeping.

According to research while an infant should be sleeping between 13 to 14 hours a day, a preschooler should sleep between 11 to 13 hours a day. Napping is very common among 2-year olds but only 10% of 6-years old still take naps.

What Is Causing Behavioral Insomnia In Preschoolers?

Sleep-onset type of insomnia is typically characterized by negative emotions towards sleeping. Quite common among infants, this type of insomnia can be easily treated.

Sleep-Onset Type Of Insomnia Treatments:

  1. For instance, parents could make a child’s bed a cozier and safer place to sleep in.
  2. Get extra toys, quilts, and pillows!
  3. Spend more time with your child before going to bed reading books and hugging.
  4. Comfort your child, make him/her feel secure.
  5. Sometimes closing your child’s door only halfway through can help a child feel safe and not alone.
  6. Lying down with a child until he/she falls asleep could be helpful as well.

Limit-setting type of insomnia. Very often preschoolers are just testing the limits of their just gained independence. Unlike infants, preschoolers are able to do many things by themselves. They can go to the washroom, eat whenever they want to, choose toys and communicate properly. Very often preschoolers insomnia is a way to test limits and boundaries. Research suggests that it affects almost 30% of all children. At this age is very important to set boundaries and most likely your child will not like it.

Limit-Setting Type Of Insomnia Treatments:

  1. Set bedtime to a certain hour.
  2. TV, video games and phone use need to be avoided at least one hour before bedtime.
  3. Avoid stimulative activities and physical games before bedtime.
  4. Avoid caffeinated drinks, chocolate and treats before bedtime.

Nighttime fears are very common. Almost 70% of all children have nighttime fears. Treatments could be similar to the sleep-onset type of insomnia and mainly include making your child feel safe and secure. It would be helpful to try to understand what is causing a child's nightmares as well. Whether it's a person or event in a child's life it needs to be eliminated.

10 Ways To Eliminate Your Child’s Insomnia:

Mother and daughter are reading a book.

  1. Sleep hygiene and healthy sleep patterns should be your number one priority. Your child should be going to bed at the same time in order to make sure he/she is getting enough sleep.
  2. Limiting TV, video games, physical activities prior to bedtime.
  3. No caffeinated, or/and sugary drinks and snacks prior to bedtime.
  4. Calming and soothing activities before bedtime are very important! A nice gentle salt bath, gentle massage, aromatherapy, reading books before bedtime – create your own routine and follow it every day.
  5. Make your child’s bed a nice and safe place to relax. Get soft comforting toys, put your child’s favorite books on the book shelve, get gentle lamp lighting to put on in the evening.
  6. Some children are very sensitive to different textures and materials. Make sure your child’s bedding is soft and is 100% cotton.
  7. Your child’s room needs to be fresh and well ventilated. Make sure to open windows for at least a half-hour before bedtime to make sure your child is getting enough oxygen during night time. Fresh air help children to sleep better and naturally people sleep the best in cool and airy rooms.
  8. Spend time with your child before bedtime. Read a book or just talk about plans for the next day to make sure that your child doesn’t feel lonely.
  9. Set an example! Children tend to repeat after parents more than to listen to them. If you will be watching TV yourself late at night it will only promote resentment if a child is sent to his/her room to sleep instead. Set an example for your child with your own discipline and sleep patterns! Let your child know how much you enjoy sleeping!
  10. What you do during the day is very important in order to sleep well at night! Physical activities in the fresh air are one of the best ways to fight insomnia! Take your child to the park or complete some summer fun activities and physical activities. There are things to do outside even in the winter! You can go snowshoeing or play with snowballs with your child! Getting enough fresh air in the daytime helps us to sleep better at night! According to research exercise has been associated with better sleep for a long time now. Physical activities not only improve sleep patterns but even could extend overall sleep duration! Moreover, exposing your preschooler to gentle sunlight for 15-20 minutes a day could improve his/her sleep as well. Exposure to morning sunlight can help a child’s body to naturally form sleeping/waking patterns.