Nobody likes a cranky kid, especially parents, but when kids do not get the sleep they need to function well, it is not a pretty picture. Tired, accident prone, moody and depressed, insomniac kids go sleepwalking through their days, which can affect them both academically and socially.
Treating insomnia in children requires an overall assessment. The symptoms could be primary, without an unidentified additional cause; or secondary, due to an underlying disease or condition. Symptoms may also be acute, e.g. short-lived, from a few days to a few weeks; or chronic, showing up three or more nights each week for months on end.
Causes can be many and varied, but finding the cause is a giant step toward finding a solution. If the cause is something critical, such as autism, Asperger’s, or a neurodevelopmental or bipolar disorder, treating the disorder should help. If such conditions are ruled out, the likely causes include stress, medication side effects, asthma, allergy, or eczema, which require some treatment to bring relief to both the condition as well as the sleep patterns.
Regardless of the underlying cause, there are steps that parents can take to help get their children, and themselves, some much needed rest:
Have your child evaluated. Parents should start with their child’s pediatrician. He or she may in turn recommend following up with specialists to help diagnose an underlying condition, or a sleep specialist who can undertake a sleep study of your child .
Monitor your child’s diet. Cola, or energy drinks, contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar, which may affect a child’s ability to relax and fall asleep. Bedtime snacks should be light and healthy. Water should be the drink of choice, but warm milk or herbal tea with honey work well, too.
Keep them in regular sleeping schedules. Try to keep their sleep routine consistent and simple. Have them prepare for bed at the same time each evening and begin relaxing activities like reading, prior to falling asleep.
Darken the room. Many children want to leave the lights on when they go to sleep. But studies show that a lighted room contributes to sleep issues. Get them a night-light or put their lights on a dimmer switch, so that they don’t have to be in pitch darkness.
Turn off and tune out. Finding a relaxing evening activity that everyone can join in at night prior to snooze time. Activities that stimulate the senses, like video games and TV should be shut down a few hours before bed. White noise machines are available on the market that can supply a consistent soothing background noise.
Minimize stress. Many parents almost laugh when asked whether their children might be experiencing stress, but kids take a large number of cues from parents, and if parents are worried, it is a sure bet that many kids are as well. Look around for sources of stress in your child’s life, and try to imagine things from his or her point of view. Things that seem inconsequential to you might be overwhelming to a child. Talking with your child about things like an upcoming test or a bully at school can go along way to calm their fears.
Make them feel secure. For younger children choose a trusted stuffed animal as the “worry dog.” Have your child whisper his concerns to the dog while you listen, and keep the stuffed animal by their side during the night. Some psychiatrists have found that writing a personal fairy tale for the child, including familiar toys, friends, family, and places, using warm, heavy, relaxed and secure imagery, is helpful. Reading such fantasy tales before bedtime for a week or more is sometimes all that is needed.