With the turn of the century, sleep habits have changed dramatically in the American family. Later bedtimes and the evening use of electronic gadgets have resulted in a substantial increase of insomnia and sleep deficit among pre-teens and teens. Although doctors recommend that children sleep between 10-11 hours nightly, many parents fail to enforce regular bedtime hours for their youngsters. This makes it difficult for kids to develop good sleep habits.
Teenagers today are notorious for staying up after midnight and not getting sufficient sleep. Most teens use late night hours to chat with friends, check their email, play computer games or watch TV in the privacy of their bedroom. Because parents are not in the habit of checking on their nighttime activities, many get away with staying up into the wee hours of the morning. Poor sleeping habits can wreak havoc on a child or teen’s sleeping pattern, causing sleep deficit the following day.
Insomnia is best described as a disturbance in a person’s sleep pattern, making it difficult for them to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. Insomnia can rob children and teens of precious sleep needed for their growth and development. Sometimes children toss and turn for hours before finally falling asleep. Other times they may fall asleep quickly only to wake a few hours later, complaining that they can’t go back to sleep. Lack of sleep not only endangers your child’s health, but makes it difficult for him or her to function properly the next day.
Insomnia can be classified as short term or long term, depending on the duration, severity and frequency of the problem. Your child may develop short term insomnia and lose a few nights sleep due to sickness, changes in lifestyle or emotional issues caused by sudden trauma. Some children are very sensitive to change such as moving to a new location or being separated from a parent or sibling, resulting in loss of sleep. Children and teens who regularly lose sleep over a long period of time (weeks or months) may be suffering from long term or chronic insomnia. Some common causes of this type of sleep loss include depression, pain, anxiety, behavioral difficulties or other medical problem.
Insomnia symptoms may differ from child to child. However, general symptoms include:
- Difficulty in falling asleep during the night
- Waking up often at night
- Waking up very early in the morning
- Feeling fatigued after waking up in the morning
- Consistent sleepiness or tiredness during the day
- Feelings of irritability or anxiety due to sleep deficit
- Inability to concentrate on daily tasks or remember facts due to tiredness
Causes of Insomnia in Children
Children can develop insomnia at any age, depending on their circumstances. There are many factors in a child’s life that could trigger these symptoms. The following are but a few:
- Emotional issues that cause stress
- Food or drinks that contain stimulants or caffeine
- Sudden changes in their life
- Childhood medications that cause side effects
- Psychiatric problems
- Medical problems or sleep disorders
- Environmental factors
Stress is a common cause of sleep loss in children. Older children or teens may suffer from stress due to relocating and having to start a new school. Difficulties in your child’s academic studies, bullying at school, financial problems, sickness in the family or an unexpected separation or divorce can also cause stress in a child’s life. If your child begins to have trouble sleeping after undergoing these or similar changes, stress may be the culprit in causing the problem. By taking time to discuss these issues with your youngster, you can help alleviate stress to resolve problems with sleeping.
Poor diet can make it difficult for children and teens to sleep well at night. Children who consume caffeinated sodas and drinks before bedtime or eat sugary foods as part of their diet may experience difficulties falling asleep at night. Teens who smoke or consume alcoholic beverages may suffer from the same problem. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise and a stress free home environment will contribute to a good night’s sleep for your family.
If your child or teen is on medication, such as treatment for ADHD or antidepressants, insomnia may be a side effect of the prescription. Such medical conditions as asthma, allergies, eczema, sleep apnea or bi-polar disorder can also disturb a child or teen’s sleep pattern, resulting in loss of sleep.
Sometimes certain aspects of your child’s environment can adversely affect his or her sleep. Excess noise, hot or cold temperatures, cramped setting, insufficient ventilation or too little or too much light can make it difficult for a child to sleep. Many of these problems can be resolved by rearranging your child’s bedroom to make conditions more favorable for sleep. You may need to institute a cutoff time for television viewing, computer games, texting, etc. at night to make it easier for your kids to wind down and go to sleep.
Insomnia Treatments and Cures
In many cases, parents can eliminate childhood insomnia by using common sense in the care of their children. Children who are allowed to stay up to all hours of the night watching television or playing computer games are bound to suffer from sleep problems. Parents who indulge their children by allowing them to eat and drink whatever they want before bedtime are also setting themselves up for sleep deprivation problems.
As a parent, there are measures you can take to preserve your children’s sleep. The following methods have proven quite helpful in preventing and treating insomnia.
Teach your kids good sleep habits: Children can learn good sleep habits from the time they are small. These habits include: adhering to a good bedtime schedule, waking up at a reasonable time, restricting the use of gadgets in the evening, avoiding sugary foods and caffeinated drinks before bed and establishing a regular, non-active bedtime routine to help wind down after a busy day. Many parents enjoy reading to their children right before bed as it provides them with personal fellowship time as well as helps their kids relax before dozing off to sleep.
Make sure your kids’ bedroom is conducive for sleep: Your kids will find it much easier to sleep in a clean, comfortable and peaceful environment. The room should be dark enough to induce sleep with a night light to provide sufficient light in case kids need to get up for a bathroom run. Once kids are in bed, the rest of the home should also maintain a quiet and calm ambience to make it easy for them to sleep.
Maintain regular bedtime schedule: Your child should have a regular bedtime schedule that helps him get the recommended hours of sleep for his age. Young children 6-12 years old generally need between 10 to 11 hours of sleep nightly. Teens can do with about 9 hours of sleep.
Let your kids engage in a quiet activity if they’re having difficulty sleeping: If your kids are having a very hard time sleeping, you may want to let them engage in a quiet activity such as reading for 15 to 20 minutes to help them relax enough to go to sleep. This can be more effective than having them lie awake or toss about in bed for the next hour. Listening to soft music can also help kids relax and induce sleep.
Sleep Deprivation in Teens
Once children become teens, they gain more control over their sleep habits. Although metabolic changes in your teen’s system may affect his sleep pattern, chances are his personal choices combined with the lure of modern technological devices (laptop, cell phone, tablet, iPod, TV) are depriving him of the sleep he needs. Teens also face many new challenges during adolescence that can cause stress and tension in their lives, making it difficult for them to sleep. Lack of sleep on a regular basis will take its toll on your teen’s physical and mental health, leaving him unable to keep up with school or home responsibilities.
Parents who notice these effects in their teens should have a serious discussion about their night time habits. By the time your child turns 12-13 years old, certain agreements can be made concerning use of computers, television viewing, cell phone, etc. in the evening to curtail problems with insomnia. Setting up rules early on in your teen’s life can help protect him from making wrong choices that can hurt him later on. Depending on the maturity level of your teen, you can make adjustments to the rules as your young teen gets older.
Problems with childhood and adolescent insomnia will not disappear on their own. If your child or teen suffers from poor sleep habits that pose a health risk, it’s time for you to take action in providing the help he needs to establish healthy sleep patterns. Healthy living habits to include a nutritious diet, regular exercise, wholesome lifestyle and sufficient sleep will benefit your kids both now and well into their adult life.