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Insomnia is a particular kind of sleep disorder that causes problems getting to sleep or staying asleep. The problems often last for just a few nights, but in other cases they can persist for weeks or months at a time. Children with insomnia may find it hard to settle down and fall asleep at night, they make wake up frequently during the night, or they may wake up much earlier than they should in the mornings. Not getting enough sleep can have some significant effects both on the affected child and on the rest of family, whose sleep will often end up being disturbed too. Problems such as tiredness during the day, irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration, and hyperactivity can be associated with sleep problems such as insomnia.
Sometimes insomnia is related to an emotional problem. Your child may be finding it difficult to get to sleep at night because he or she is lying awake worrying about something. The problem could be a disagreement with friends, problems with schoolwork, or even a frightening story that they have seen in the news. Children often worry about things that don't seem that important to grown ups, so the best way to find out what is on their minds is usually to talk to them about it.
Other issues that can cause insomnia include a bright, loud or otherwise disruptive sleeping environment and the lack of a relaxing bedtime routine. Addressing these issues can often help to get children, teenagers, or even adults to sleep more easily.
Sometimes the cause of insomnia is a physical problem or medical condition. Issues such as sleep apnoea or night terrors can cause your child to wake up during the night, and they may find it difficult to get back to sleep again. Your child could also be kept awake because they are experiencing pain or discomfort from another illness, which they might not be able to tell you about if they are too young or they have difficulty communicating. If there is an underlying cause, it will need to be identified and addressed in order to solve the insomnia.
Babies sleep in short bursts and wake to feed frequently. As they grow and start eating solid foods, babies don't need to feed during the night but still have the habit of waking so they have to learn to sooth themselves back to sleep. This is how babies adjust and start sleeping for longer periods and by 9-12 months of age most are sleeping through the night. If parents keep giving attention every time their baby wakes and cries, the baby won't learn to self-sooth back to sleep. Eventually they learn to expect mummy or daddy to attend, pick them up, feed them, rock them, until they go back to sleep. This behaviour can soon become entrenched and it is then referred to as behavioural insomnia. Toddlers can also show bedtime resistance, have problems getting off to sleep and staying asleep unless they get attention. It pays to establish a good bedtime routine, and good sleep habits right from the start to avoid sleep problems in babies and toddlers. Please take a look at the attached information about good sleep habits.
You should see a doctor about insomnia if it lasts for a long time or it is having a significant impact on your child. Lack of sleep can leave children feeling tired and unhappy, and it can also make it difficult for them to focus and do well at school. Once a sleep problem starts having these kinds of effects, it needs to be addressed. If you aren't able to solve it yourself, it is worth taking the time to seek advice from an expert. You will be able to get tips on creating an effective bedtime routine and a comfortable sleeping environment. Your doctor will also be able to identify any underlying issues that could be responsible for your child's sleeping problems.
Identifying the cause of insomnia is important, particularly if there is an underlying medical condition that needs to be treated. In addition to asking about your child's sleep patterns, the doctor may want to perform a physical exam or to run some tests. In some cases, a sleep study may need to be performed. This will involve an overnight stay at a specialist sleep clinic.
Once the cause of the problem has been identified, an appropriate solution can be found. If your child is having trouble sleeping because they are stressed or worried, talking through these feelings can often help. Taking some practical steps, such as getting more help at school if it is needed, can also help.
Creating the right environment for sleep is also important. Your child's bedroom needs to be a dark, quiet, safe space where there are as few distractions as possible. It is particularly important to get rid of phones, computers and other screens. Sometimes a dim nightlight, some gentle music, or having a comforting toy in the bed can help. You should also check that your child isn't hungry, thirsty, too hot or too cold when they go to bed. Having a relaxing bedtime routine is also important. This could involve reading or talking together, having a bath, or drinking a warm drink. Bedtime should be a calm, relaxing and consistent routine.
In some cases, an underlying cause will be identified for insomnia. Your child may then need additional treatment to address this problem. For example, a nasal spray may be used to prevent sleep apnoea, or medication may help your child to feel more comfortable at night if they are affected by asthma.