Sleep Problems in Children
Sleep problems are very common during the first few years of life. Problems may include waking up during the night, not wanting to go to sleep, nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting. If frantic upset persists with no apparent cause, call your child’s doctor.
All children differ in how much sleep they need, how long it takes them to fall asleep, and how easily they wake up. Read on for more information on how parents can help their children develop good sleep habits, even at an early age.
Babies have different sleep schedules than toddlers or even adults. They sleep longer during the day but for shorter periods of time amounting to about 16 hours a day. As they get older they need less sleep. My Pediatric Center suggests a few of the following tips for helping you and your baby sleep at night.
- Keep your baby calm and quiet when you change them or feed them during the night.
- Make daytime playtime – this allows them to know that when it is quiet at night that it is bedtime.
- Put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake.
- Wait a few minutes before responding to their fussing. If it persists go in quietly without turning the light on and if you have to feed or change a diaper, do so quietly and gently to keep them in nighttime mode.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Many parents tell My Pediatric Center that putting their kids to bed is the hardest part of their day. They often resist going to sleep especially if they have older siblings. Here are a few suggestions:
- Set up a quiet routine before bedtime to help them understand that this is what they are supposed to do each night before bed. Things might include, brushing teeth, reading stories, taking a bath.
- Be consistent about not playing games that get them riled up before going to bed.
- Allow them to take a favorite item or toy to bed each night.
- Make sure they are comfortable.
- Don’t let them sleep in the same bed with you.
- Don’t return to the bed every time they call or complain.
- Give it time!!!
There are many things that can cause a child to wake up during the night. Most of these happen when children are overtired or under stress. Keeping your child on a regular sleep schedule may help prevent many of these problems. If your sleep problems with your child persist or get worse, talk with your child’s doctor.
What can you do when your children have nightmares and are having a hard time falling back asleep? Here are a few suggestions:
- Go to them as quickly as possible
- Assure them that you are there and won’t let anything harm them
- Remind them that dreams are not real
- Allow them to keep a light on if necessary
- Try to get to the root of the problem and take care of it if you can. It could be as simple as shadows in their bedroom
Night terrors cause major sleep problems in children. Night terrors occur in the deepest sleep which can be before their parents go to bed. My Pediatric Center says that your child might do these during the terror:
- Cry uncontrollably
- Sweat, shake, or breathe fast
- Have a terrified, confused, or glassy-eyed look
- Thrash around, scream, kick, or stare
- Not recognize you or even realize you are there
- Try to push you away, especially if you try to hold them
Night terrors can last as long as 45 minutes. Most children fall asleep right after or because they have not actually been awake or not realized what was happening.
What you can do:
- Stay calm – Night terrors are often more frightening for the parent than the child
- Do not try to wake your child
- Make sure your child cannot hurt themselves. If they try to get out of bed, gently restrain them
Sleep walking and sleep talking
Like night terrors, your child can sleep talk and sleep walk without actually being awake. Sleepwalking tends to run in families and can occur several times in one night in older children and teens. Here are some things that My Pediatric Center suggests you can do:
- Make sure your child is safe and doesn’t hurt themselves
- Lock outside doors so your child cannot leave the house
- Block stairways so your child cannot go up or down them
- Do not try to wake your child when they are sleepwalking or sleep talking. Gently guide them back to bed
Bedwetting at night is very common in children with sleep problems. Here are some things that we know about bedwetting:
- Your child’s bladder cannot hold urine for a full night
- Your child is a deep sleeper and can’t wake up to use the toilet
- Your child is constipated, It can put pressure on the bladder
- Your child’s body produces too much urine at night
- Your child has a minor illness, is overly tired, or is responding to changes or stresses going on at home
- There is a family history of bedwetting.
Here is what you can do:
- Do not blame or punish them for wetting the bed and reassure them it will get better in time
- Have your child us the toilet right before bed
- Avoid giving them fluids before bed
- Put a rubber or plastic cover over their mattress
- Encourage them to help you change the wet sheets. This will help teach them responsibility and avoid embarrassment of having other family members know about the problem every time it happens.
Children with sleep problems can also grind their teeth at night. This is not necessarily bad for their teeth, but check with a dentist to make sure. It is usually a sign they are under stress or tension and will go away with time. Here are some things that you can do:
- Help your child deal with the stresses in their life
- Talk with your child’s doctor to rule out any medical problems that may be causing the problem
If you have any questions or concerns please contact The Pediatric Center if you notice any of these, or any other, sleep problems in your child.