Does My Kid Have a Sleep Problem, or Is This Normal?
When my kids don’t sleep well, I don’t sleep well. And when mom doesn’t sleep well, everyone suffers. Humans cannot sustain years of interrupted sleep, yet us young mothers are expected to somehow raise kids, hold jobs and manage the house on 4 – 6 hours of interrupted sleep for years.
Unfortunately, getting better sleep hinges on getting our KIDS to sleep better – those restless, adorable tyrants who just love staying up as long as possible, all while sobbing from exhaustion and insisting on crazy things like one more book or a 15th drink of water.
Why God, why won’t my child sleep at night??
If you’re suffering like me, it may be time to talk to a professional. They can help pinpoint if the sleep battle wages on because of behavior or a health issue.
“Some kids don’t want to miss a thing, and they want to be awake when everyone else in the family is awake,” says Sarah VanHouten, nurse practitioner with Metro Health – University of Michigan. “In other cases, there may be medical or behavioral issues that need to be addressed.”
Regardless of the root issue, Sarah loves helping kids improve their sleep.
“When you help them sleep, you change the child’s life and you change the lives of their entire family.”
I can testify to this. On the rare night that no one wakes me for something, I feel like supermom the next day. I feel normal. The kids will get to school on time and they’ll have a snack waiting for them after school. And I might even remember to complete that field trip permission slip on time.
Plus, my kids are feeling normal. They’re smiling and peaceful. They’re interested in learning and helping others. They don’t have tantrums in the middle of Meijer.
Basically, kids are their best selves when they get a good night’s sleep.
Solutions for Common Sleep Problems in Children
Sarah details four common reasons why children struggle to sleep and recommendations for help. Sometimes it’s just behavioral (don’t wanna miss a thing) or sometimes it’s medical (mental or physical issue).
Consider your kid’s habits as you read these. It can help pinpoint the problem and allow you to give valuable info to your pediatrician:
1 – Sleep Apnea
Believe it or not, children can develop sleep apnea just like adults. Sarah says that in many cases, this is because the tonsils and/or the adenoids are blocking the airway. A sleep study will reveal if this is the cause, and surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids may be recommended.
One of my son’s friends had removing her tonsils totally transformed her sleep life and day life!
2 – Behavioral insomnia
This occurs when children have difficulty falling asleep. In some cases, a learned behavior is to blame.
“For instance, if you rocked your child to sleep when they were young, but stopped when they got older, they may struggle to sleep without the comfort of rocking,” Sarah explains.
“Children thrive on routine and a good routine to establish is an hour before bedtime take away screens, dim the lights, have them brush their teeth, read them a story and then put them to bed.”
3 – Nighttime Awakening
Exactly as it states, some children struggle to maintain sleep because they wake up in the middle of the night. Sarah notes this could be due to sleep apnea or anxiety.
Children may also experience nightmares or night terrors that lead to a fear of falling back asleep. This happened to all of my kids. If your child is an imaginative kid, this could be the sleep bandit.
For nightmares or anxiety, parents can wield their powers of comfort and reassurance.
Saray says to let your child know they are safe and that you’re there for them. Tell them it’s just a dream and it’s not real.
“My trick of the trade is ‘monster spray,’” Sarah says. “Put water in a spray bottle and before the child goes to bed, give their room a spritz to ward off monsters.”
My trick of the trade is night lights and a sound machine. Often they’ll hear the house settling in the night and it’ll put them in a frenzy. Nightlights and sound machines can ward off those shadowy, creaky monsters.
4 – Stalling
Every child, at one point or another, will employ clever stall tactics to avoid sleep. Just because.
But stalling can become a learned behavior if parents give in.
“When families are struggling with a child who stalls, we coach them on special techniques designed to redirect the child to bed,” Sarah says.
“Again, the number one rule is consistency and routine. Establish a bedtime routine by six months and stick to it.”
No, we are not saying that this is easy. So don’t think you can waltz into this solution. But your hard work will pay off in the long run.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m just expecting my kids to sleep more than they actually need. I mean, babies sleep all the time, but at what point is only 8 hours enough sleep?
“I advise parents to adhere to the sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics,” says VanHouten. “But I also understand they have so much happening in their lives and each day presents its own challenges. I tell them sleep is important—and a bedtime structure is crucial—but they have to do what works for their family.”
When my 6 year old was regularly lying in bed awake until 11 PM, I asked her pediatrician for help. She got up at 7 AM with no problems, but it still seemed strange that she had this adult-like sleep schedule at such a young age.
Her doc said that some kids simply do not need 12 hours of sleep a night.
VanHouten agrees. “Don’t focus on the hours as much, but strive to make sleep a priority for your family by establishing a good bedtime routine and having a consistent sleep and wake schedule.
“For the school aged kids I ask parents to aim for 10-11 hours each night as this is such a crucial time of development for them,” advises VanHouten. She says that teens should strive for 9 hours, but admits the challenges of this with sports, homework and school’s early start time.
Here are some signs that your child may not be getting enough sleep:
- Morning headaches
- Tossing and turning at night
- Problems at school
- Behavioral problems
“It’s very common for children to struggle with sleep at some point in their life. I know my own kids don’t always get enough sleep,” Sarah admits.
If your child is struggling to sleep, contact your primary care physician. Metro Health’s world-class primary care physicians are experienced in screening children for sleep disorders. If a problem is suspected, your primary care physician will refer your child to a sleep specialist to perform an overnight sleep study.