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A Guide to Solving Your Child's Insomnia

Updated on November 2, 2010

Insomnia is the most common childhood sleeping disorder and it can occur at any age. Insomnia can be either primary or secondary. Secondary insomnia is where the sleep problem is caused by or is a side effect of another illness or medical condition and primary insomnia is where the sleep problem stands alone and has no link to any other illness or medical condition. If your child is unable to sleep because their sinuses are blocked due to a cold this would be secondary insomnia and the key to solving secondary insomnia is usually to treat the illness or medical condition causing the sleeping problem.

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Apart from being classified as primary or secondary insomnia is also classified by the length of time the insomnia lasts.  Your child would have transient insomnia when he or she lost a couple of nights' sleep worrying about taking part in the school play, They would have short term insomnia when they had difficulty sleeping for a week or two such as when they were grieving over the death of a grandparent   However once the problem continues for longer than three weeks the insomnia is considered chronic. 

Transient insomnia is not normally anything for a parent to be concerned about as a child can usually cope with the loss of one or two nights’ sleep without any difficulty. Once the problem has continued long enough to be considered as short term insomnia the impact of the loss of sleep will be becoming more noticeable, mildly impairing your child’s functioning. Once the problem is considered chronic the impact is likely to severely impact on your child’s functioning.

Each child will react to a loss of sleep differently.  They may become aggressive and irritable and experience mood swings, they might be depressed and hyperactive, they could start to start making mistakes in their school work and have problems with their attention span or remembering things or they might just be more withdrawn and quiet. If not tackled loss of sleep can seriously affect your child’s health, as children who don’t enough sleep get ill more frequently and their growth can be impacted.  They can also find it more difficult to learn and are not as happy.

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So if sleep is so important to your child can a lack of sleep be treated with a pill.  Well yes it can but this is not usually the answer and under no circumstances should you ever give your child one of your own sleeping pills.

Disclaimer

The content in this article is provided for your informational purposes only and it is not intended to be used as a substitute for accurate and appropriate medical advice from your health care professional.

It is important for you to work with your child’s doctor to tackle a serious long term sleep problem regardless of the treatment options chosen. My own personal preference is to avoid prescriptions drugs for the treatment of any illness or condition and these convictions are strengthened for the treatment of childhood insomnia by a report in the American Family Physician that I recently read which was written in 2008 by Sarah Babineau and Cheryl Goodwin to establish whether there are any safe and effective medications for the treatment of insomnia in children. Their report advises that “there is limited evidence regarding the effectiveness and safety of pharmacologic agents for sleep promotion in children.” They also advise in their report that the American Academy of Paediatrics and the National Sleep Foundation both recognize that there are inadequate data to guide pharmacologic treatment of insomnia in children.

It isn’t always that simple to work out whether your child is suffering from insomnia as just like adults different children need different amounts of sleep.  So you can’t work out whether your child has insomnia based on the amount of sleep that they get each night but to give you a very rough idea the table below provides the approximate sleep needs for a child at different ages.  If your child is getting less sleep than shown but they wake up every morning full of beans and raring to go and they don’t feel tired during the day it is likely they are getting all the sleep that they need.

Age 
Night Sleep (Hours) 
Daytime Nap (Hours) 
Total Sleep (Hours)
11 
2.5 
13.5
11 
13
10.5 
1.5 
12
11.5
0
11.5
11
0
11
6 - 7 
10.5
0
10.5
8 - 9 
10
0
10
10 - 11 
9.5
0
9.5
12 - 13 
9
0
9
14 - 15 
8.5
0
8.5
16 + 
8
0
8

If your child is getting less sleep than shown but is feeling tired or is showing any of the symptoms of insomnia the good news is that there are lots of things which can be done to help overcome this problem which don’t involve medication but it is important that you tackle this problem with the help of your child’s doctor in case there are other underlying medical conditions causing the sleeping difficulties.

 

A lot of childhood insomnia is caused by anxiety and stress and as a parent it is important that you talk with your child to establish what is upsetting them.  It might seem obvious to you that your child’s recent sleeping problems have been caused by the illness and death of the family pet but they might also be experiencing problems at school of which you have no knowledge.  Don’t assume you know what the problem is. Ask!

Change can be a very difficult thing for a child to deal with as they like to feel secure but the one thing you won’t be able to do is to stop change happening as life is one life long series of changes some of which are bigger than others.  So while you can’t send back the new baby brother or sister that has just arrived and turned your eldest child’s world upside down you can provide him or her with reassurances to feel more secure.

If your child is not feeling anxious or stressed there are lots of other causes which may be to blame for your child not sleeping properly ranging from a lack of routine to over stimulation. In my hubs Natural Sleep Remedies for Children and Top Ten Sleep Tips for Children I explain many of the practical and drug free steps that you can take to help your child achieve a full and restful night’s sleep.

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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      That's good to know Amber. She's really doing fine. But I guess her sleeping patterns affect my wife and I's sleeping patterns as well.

    • Amber Allen profile imageAUTHOR

      Amber Allen 

      6 years ago

      Hi jpcmc

      The table is only a guide and if your daughter is happy and thriving I wouldn't worry. I know my mother told me that I was a terrible sleeper when I was young. She says I was afraid that I was going to miss something if I slept too much!!

      Amber:)

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      My daughetr sleeps way less than what is indicated here. Although she takes a 2 hour sleep during the day, at night we're lucky if she gets 8 hours of sleep.

    • Amber Allen profile imageAUTHOR

      Amber Allen 

      7 years ago

      Hi Prasetio

      A lack of sleep can be a the bottom of the lot of misbehaviour in children but as a teacher I expect you already know this. Thanks for rating up.

      Amber:)

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Another great hub from you. Children need to sleep more than adults because of they are in growth period. They need to sleep well. I hope your tips is a good solution for child with the sleeping disorder like insomnia. Rating up!

      Blessing and hugs,

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