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What is childhood insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder which involves difficult with falling or staying asleep at night. Insomnia can occur over the short term or it can occur on a regular basis for a period of weeks, months, or years.

Insomnia in childhood is an increasing problem in the UK, and nearly 10,000 children were admitted to hospital with a sleep disorder in 2017. In a recent survey, children in the UK were found to be the most sleep-deprived in Europe .

Sleep recommendations vary depending on age , with the average 5-year-old requiring 11 hours of sleep and the average 11-year-old requiring 9 ½ hours.

What are the symptoms of childhood insomnia?

A child suffering from insomnia may show the following signs:

  • tension or worry about going to sleep
  • struggling at school and problems with memory
  • mood swings
  • hyperactivity
  • sleepiness during the day

What causes childhood insomnia?

The main causes of childhood insomnia are:

  • poor bedtime habits: such as watching TV or a tablet device before bed, drinking stimulants such as caffeinated drinks before bed, or not having a regular sleep routine
  • stress: stress could be the result of irregular schedules, family problems, schoolwork or exams, separation anxiety, bullying, or childhood fears
  • sleep disorders: such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome

More rarely other medical causes can contribute to sleep issues, such as severe asthma, pain from otitis or colic, enuresis (involuntary urination), or the effect of medication.

Can childhood insomnia be prevented?

You can reduce the chances of your child having poor sleep by adopting a number of healthy “sleep habit”, including:

  • enforcing consistent bed times and getting up times
  • turning off screens (including phones, tables, and the TV) at least an hour before bed
  • not allowing your child to consume fizzy drinks before bed
  • making sure your child’s bedroom is dark, a comfortable temperature, and quiet

Beyond this, it’s important to identify anything that might be causing your child to feel stressed. If none of these strategies work, you should take your child to the doctor to see if there is an underlying medical cause.

What is the treatment for childhood insomnia?

The treatment will depend on the cause. Your doctor is likely to give you sleep advice (see above) and investigate any factors that might cause stress. Beyond this, treatment can involve medication, including melatonin, a hormone that helps the body go to sleep. Treatment for sinus problems can include steroids, and in severe cases, nasal surgery.