Sleep is often something many of us take for granted, until we’re not getting enough of it.
One medical condition that drastically reduces how much sleep a person gets is insomnia, and it affects nearly a third of the population with it becoming increasingly more common in children under the age of 14.
When you have a child that is struggling with insomnia, it can have damaging effects on their health and happiness which is why it’s important to identify the problem and understand how it can be dealt with and managed effectively.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is considered a sleep disorder which is identified as having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
There are three types of insomnia, the most common being ‘transient insomnia’.
This type of insomnia will come and go and may last anywhere between one night to a few weeks. This is typically caused by worries or concerns about life events, or extreme stress that is making it difficult to switch off at night.
It becomes ‘acute insomnia’ when the cause is slightly bigger or longer-lasting, such as bereavement, which, in turn, means the insomnia is an ongoing issue for several weeks.
However, when a person suffers from insomnia at least three nights a week for a period of at least three months, this would be considered 'chronic insomnia'.
Chronic insomnia can be caused by the same things as acute insomnia, such as stress or worries, but these tend to be about ongoing life events or as a result of depression or anxiety.
Bad sleeping habits can also cause chronic insomnia, such as watching TV until late at night, eating heavy before bed or having an uncomfortable sleeping environment.
Medication and medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, are also common causes of chronic insomnia.
How does insomnia affect children?
Much like adults who suffer from insomnia, children will show a few clear signs and symptoms such as:
- Waking up too early or in the middle of the night
- Difficulty falling asleep when it’s their bedtime
- Daytime tiredness and fatigue
- Irritability and mood swings
- Decreased concentration
These symptoms can then have a knock-on effect on your child’s day to day life, causing things like poor grades at school, increased chances of depression and other health problems, and behavioural problems.
How can you combat insomnia in your child?
Before turning to medication that helps people get to sleep/stay asleep through the night, you should always consider the underlying medical or psychological factors that could be causing your child’s insomnia.
If you can get to the root cause of the problem and find a method of solving that, then you may not even need to get a prescription for the insomnia.
One such medical example would be if your child has asthma and coughs frequently throughout the night causing them to wake up or have trouble even getting to sleep. This could mean that their asthma is not being controlled effectively and they may need stronger medication for it.
A psychological example may be that they are stressed about a situation or event and it is causing them to have trouble getting to sleep because they have a lot on their mind at night.
This is not as easy to fix as supplying some medication and could require a child psychiatrist or just a conversation between you and your child where you can offer some support and reassurance.
If all else fails, you could try the following:
- If you’re not doing so already, enforce a strict and regular bedtime for your child so that they are going to sleep at the same time every day. This will help regulate their body clock and help them fall asleep when it’s time for bed.
- Create a relaxing sleeping environment for your child. This is particularly helpful if their insomnia is being caused by stress or anxiety. A messy or unorganised room will only contribute further to the stress, so make sure that their bedroom is tidy before they go to bed and that there is no light creeping through the curtains or items in the room which may distract them from sleep.
You can further create a sleep-friendly environment by trying things like weighted blankets and white noise missions which are products created solely for the purpose of helping those who have difficulty getting to sleep.
- Ensure that there is nothing in their bedtime routine which may be disturbing their sleep such as eating too much too late at night, consuming sugary drinks right before bed or watching TV.
Adjust their routine accordingly by introducing a more positive structure that encourages a good night’s sleep e.g. reading a bedtime book, not letting them eat or drink at least two hours before bed, having a warm bath etc.
Last, but by no means least, make sure that they have a comfortable bed to sleep in as any discomfort can have a huge affect on their quality of sleep.
We create and build beds for children aged 3+ that are designed to provide your child with a great night’s sleep. They’ll love it so much that they’ll be begging you to go to bed.