Examples of sleep problems in childhood include:
- Waking up frequently throughout the night
- Sleep talking
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Sleepiness throughout the day
- Teeth grinding and clenching
- Waking up early
Most sleep problems in childhood are related to poor sleep habits or anxiety about falling asleep. Persistent sleep problems can also be symptoms related to emotional difficulties. A developmental milestone for young children is “separation anxiety”. For all young children, going to bed is a time of separation. Some children will do whatever they can to prevent this separation at bedtime. To help minimize these sleep problems with children, parents should develop a regular bedtime and sleep routines consistently for their children. One way to get an infant to fall asleep is by feeding and rocking them. However, once the child is not an infant anymore, the parents must find another way to put them to sleep to avoid this attachment. Not doing so, can cause the child to have a hard time going to sleep alone. Some ways to help children understand that it is time for bed, is by reading stories or brushing teeth.
Nightmares are common in childhood. Depending on the severity of the nightmare, it can interfere with restful sleep. “Parasomnias” involve sleep terrors, sleepwalking, and sleep talking. This is considered to be a rare group of sleep disorders. Sleep terrors involve the child to scream uncontrollably and appears to be awake but cannot communicate and is confused. This is different than a child having a nightmare, because the child usually won’t remember the sleep terror in the morning. Children who sleepwalk may appear to be awake as they are moving around but can be in danger of hurting themselves. Children with these sleep episodes occur several times a nigh, or nightly for weeks at a time. It can also interfere with the child’s behavior during the day.
Electronic devices have now become a major part of our lives, for both children and adults. Screen time exposure can affect the body’s natural signal of falling asleep. Using these devices in bed can signal the mind that it is time for play and not sleep. To avoid this, it is recommended that all screens are turned off 1-2 hours before bedtime and no electronics are allowed in the bedrooms.
Sleep can also be disturbed by mood disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety. As children mature, their body naturally gets over these common sleep problems. However, parents with ongoing concerns should contact their pediatrician or a trained mental health profession for an evaluation.
Here at Premier Mind Institute (PMI), we take the necessary time and steps to provide thorough evaluations for children, adolescents, and adults with sleep problems. When presented with an individual who has trouble sleeping, we conduct an assessment to help determine the best treatment plan for restful sleep. We look at every individual as a whole incorporating psychotherapy, medications, diet, exercise, and other alternative treatments, as applicable.
*Reprinted with permission from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, © All Rights Reserved, 2019. For full text please visit: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Childrens-Sleep-Problems-034.aspx