How to deal with your child’s sleep problems

Getting a good night’s sleep is as important as eating healthy and exercising. This is how we renergise ourselves everyday and get ourselves ready for a day full of activities. We adults find ourselves cranky and become low on energy by the end of the day if we do not get a full 8 hours of sleep the previous night. This could be because you had to spend an extra hour putting your toddler to bed, were up late preparing for a big client meeting, or are suffering from legitimate sleep problems. Similarly, children may also struggle to get a full night’s sleep for various reasons.

Children and infants need about 12-16 hours of sleep everyday. Sleeping, on the other hand, appears to be a completely boring activity as a child. After juggling between household chores and office work, it can be frustrating for parents to spend hours getting their children to go to bed. It can hamper everyone’s sleep cycle, ruining everyone’s next day. In this case, it becomes important to have a proper night time routine and for everyone to follow it.

Although having a routine is one way to ensure that your child goes to bed on time and that everyone gets enough sleep every night, it may not work in every case. Child insomnia, stress, ADHD, and certain medications can all cause sleep problems in your child. If you notice that your child is having difficulty sleeping for several weeks in a row, it is imperative that you seek medical attention.

While it is common for children to resist going to bed even when tired and for toddlers and infants to sleep only for a short duration of time, certain adjustments to your lifestyle can help you manage this situation better. In this blog, we will look at some of the causes and solutions to your child’s sleep issues.

Sleepless nights and disturbed sleeping patterns

Sleep deprivation or disrupted sleeping patterns can have a significant impact on a child’s mood. It can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from simple to medically induced –

1. Bedtime fears and nightmares

It is common for children to be afraid of the dark or sleeping alone. This may prevent them from sleeping peacefully at night. Every little sound they hear at night after the rest of the family has gone to bed may disturb them. Nightmares can also disrupt your child’s sleep for several days. They may struggle to distinguish between their terrifying dream and reality, making it difficult for them to return to sleep in the same bed or room. Dismissing their fear and asking them to fall back to sleep right away will make them even more anxious. Instead we should try and comfort them and ensure that they are safe.

Children tend to get nightmares and such fears if they consume violent or scary content right before their bedtime. To avoid such situations, make sure that they get off their gadgets an hour before their bedtime. Instead encourage them to read a peaceful book or take a walk on the terrace and talk about school and your day in general. Ease them into bed. If they sleep alone, keep their room door slightly open, keep a light on if that comforts them. When they wake up from a nightmare, reassure them that they are safe and assist them in distinguishing between what is real and what is not. However, do not dwell on the details of the terrifying dream in an attempt to put them to sleep.

If this is a recurring occurrence, talk to your child and try to find out if they are having a difficult time in life.

2. Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is another sleep disorder found in children. It usually goes away by the time your child reaches their teen age. Irregular sleep schedule, lack of sleep, illness and certain medications can cause your kid to sleep walk. However, sleepwalking does not only entail walking while asleep, you may also find your child talking, mumbling, rubbing their eyes, sitting up on their bed or doing repetitive movements. Although a normal occurrence, if you notice your child sleepwalking more often than not it is advisable to speak to a specialist. It may be indicative of an underlying issue.

Few things to do and not to do if you find your child sleepwalking –

    • Do not wake them up as they might get scared, instead ease them back to sleep
    • Make sure that they do not get hurt while they sleepwalk
    • Make sure that they stick to their sleep schedule and get enough sleep
    • Speak to them and try to find out if they are stressed as it may also cause sleepwalking

3. Child insomnia

WebMD defines insomnia as a disruption of the sleep cycle that includes difficulties with getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and possibly early morning awakenings. In children, insomnia can last a few nights or can be long term, lasting weeks. Stress caused by school work, tension at home or arrival of a new sibling and so on is one of the triggers of child insomnia. Other triggers include ADHD, illness, pain and other kinds of mental disorders.

Few other sleep disorders in children include : arousal disorder, restless legs syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and so on.

Child insomnia can be managed by establishing a proper bedtime routine so that your kid can ease into sleep. Put them into a comfortable night suit or pajamas, brush your teeth together, read them a bedtime story or sing them a lullaby. Reduce their exposure to external stimuli such as television and mobile phones. To induce sleep, create a soothing environment. Having a proper bedtime routine does not only benefit the child, but it can positively impact the entire family and their dynamics. Following the same bedtime routine on a daily basis will help send a signal to our bodies that it is time to rest. This will reduce nighttime awakenings and allow for longer periods of sleep. In the long term this will impact our child’s overall growth and development.

4. Sleep disruption in newborns

Babies need around 15-16 hours of sleep everyday. During those early years, their tiny bodies undergo rapid changes, and to support the development of their muscle and brain, they must sleep for the majority of the day. This includes both short naps and deep sleep after their meals and at night. But new parents, especially mothers, are fully aware of the struggle they have to go through to put their newborns to sleep. It can be difficult to get them used to a proper sleep schedule.

New parents may find it difficult to put their baby to sleep for many reasons. If your baby skips their nap during day time then by the end of the day it will make them cranky and in that case it becomes even more difficult to put a restless baby to sleep. This makes it necessary for the parents to ensure that your baby does not skip their nap during the day. Overtiredness can make it difficult for them to fall asleep easily.

Similarly, if a baby is hungry, they may wake up several times during the night. If they are used to being fed in the middle of the night, they will develop the habit of waking up multiple times during the night. To ensure that your baby does not wake up hungry in the middle of the night practice nursing them as they are half asleep. Gently rouse them, ensuring that they are ingesting safely without being completely awakened.

Lack of routine, teething pain and illness can also cause your baby to have disturbed sleeping patterns. Sometimes if a baby is overstimulated or is full of energy then they might find it difficult to fall asleep. Parents have to be patient with their babies and find the right time to put them to sleep. Body cues such as yawning and eye rubbing are common signs that your baby is trying to communicate that they are sleepy. They like to cuddle and feel the warmth of their caregiver before falling asleep; you can rock them to sleep or stay beside them on their cradle or bed as they sleep.

A good night’s sleep can turn a person’s day around. In a family setup, your child’s good sleeping pattern has a positive influence on the entire family. Getting enough sleep during early childhood aids your child’s physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development. It works as a fuel for their body.

Aside from the ones mentioned above, the following are some strategies that parents can use to help their child establish a good bedtime routine and sleep better at night – (1) Encourage them to write journal entries before bed to clear their minds; (2) Everyone in the house should start their bedtime routine around the same time – lower the lights and turn off any gadgets; (3) Limit their sugar and caffeinated product consumption; and (4) Engage them in outdoor activities during the day. However, it is important to emphasise that irregular sleep cycles can be a sign of underlying illness. If your child still isn’t getting enough sleep at night after weeks of trying, see a doctor right away.

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