A Parent’s Nightmare: When Kids Can’t Sleep

A Parent’s Nightmare: When Kids Can’t Sleep

A Parent’s Nightmare: When Kids Can’t Sleep

At the end of a long, hard day, nothing looks more inviting than a soft bed and fluffy pillow. Snuggling under a fluffy duvet or layers of soft blankets may seem like a little bit of heaven. Until your kid wanders in and tells you he can’t sleep.

Sleep is vital for the growing bodies and developing minds of kids. Yet, nearly 50 percent of children have trouble getting enough shut-eye each night. Along with feeling tired, sleep-deprived kids can struggle with their daytime activities – including school.

On the bright side, experts say sleep issues usually clear up by the time kids become teens. So how can you help your youngsters get the sleep they need until then? Here’s a quick primer on the most common sleep issues that affect them.

The Sleepwalker

Sleepwalking is most common in children between four and eight years of age. It usually happens within an hour or two after falling asleep. An episode may last about five to 15 minutes.  Stress and fatigue are sometimes to blame. Other triggers include illness and fever. Certain medications can cause sleepwalking. Don’t try to wake a sleepwalking child, just lead them back to bed.

Fortunately, most kids outgrow sleepwalking. In the meantime, take these steps to help your child:

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule.
  • Help prevent accidents. Install gates on staircases. Avoid the use of bunk beds.
  • Clear clutter from the floor.
  • Keep windows and doors locked.
Night Terrors vs. Nightmares

Nightmares are more common than you may think. About one out of every four kids has a scary dream more than once a week.

Night terrors are less common, and affect only about four percent of children – usually between the ages of three and eight. During a night terror, your child may bolt upright screaming and sweating. He or she may be confused and have trouble remembering the dream. If your youngster is afraid and can’t go back to sleep, offer reassuring hugs and soothing words until he or she is calm.

As with sleepwalking, night terrors tend to increase when children are stressed or tired. To prevent scary dreams, create and stick to a relaxing pre-bed routine. Turn off tech well ahead of bedtime. This included video games, television, cell phones and computers.  Let you child relax in a warm bath followed by a favorite story (not a scary one).

The Wet Blanket

Bed-wetting tends to run in families. If both parents wet the bed during childhood, their children have an 80 percent chance of also being bedwetters. The issue is twice as common in boys as in girls.

Anxiety and stress may play a role. Many things can upset children, including the birth of a new sibling or their parents’ divorce. It can also signal a medical problem, such as a bladder infection or urinary problem. In those cases, though, other symptoms also appear.

Bed-wetting almost always disappears by the teen years. In the meantime, it can have an effect on a child’s self-esteem. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Limit fluids after dinner.
  • Urge your child to use the toilet before going to bed.
  • Put a rubber or plastic cover between the sheet and mattress to protect the bed when accidents happen.
  • Ban teasing any child who wets the bed.
  • Consider a wetness alarm that sounds off or vibrates to wake your child so they can get up and make their way to the toilet.

Talk to your child’s doctor about a treatment plan if these steps don’t help. He or she may recommend bladder-stretching exercises to help increase the amount of time between urinating. Prescription medications may also be available.

The Night Owls

Research shows some kids are “wired” to stay up late. Just like some are early risers. These sleep tendencies are known as chronotypes. Studies have identified four: larks, morning types, evening types and owls.

If your child is a night owl, your idea of a proper bedtime may not be very different from theirs. Chalk it up to genetics – which has a strong influence over our internal clocks. But so does the environment. If you worry your owl isn’t getting enough rest, try these sleep-inducing strategies:

  • Cut off soft drinks and anything with caffeine six hours of bedtime.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime every night.
  • Set the mood for snoozing with a relaxing routine. A warm bath after dinner and favorite bedtime story may do the trick.
  • Make your child’s bedroom a dark, quiet, TV-free zone that isn’t too warm or cold. Turn off all mobile devices, too.

Do your kids experience any of these sleep problems? How do you help them get better sleep?

Sources: Sleep Disorders, leaving site icon National Sleep Foundation, 2022; Pediatric Sleepwalking, leaving site icon Healthline, 2019; Bed-wetting, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2017; Are Some Kids Just Night Owls?, leaving site icon Today’s Parents, 2021.

Originally published 3/30/2015; Revised 2023

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