How to Cope with Paediatric Sleep Problems

My child wont sleep sleep!

I have a hard time getting my child to sleep?

I’m constantly getting up during the night to help/coax my child back to sleep?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, be reassured you’re not the only one! Sleep problems in children are common. Up to 40% of children and adolescents have problems with sleep at some stage. This figure can be even higher for children with a disability. Sleep helps with making memories, learning and refreshing our bodies. When children have problems with sleep it not only impacts upon their functioning and development but it is also likely to increase parent and family stress.

How much sleep do we need? 

The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person. It is true that some people need more sleep while others can survive on less, but as a general guideline, the following applies:-

 AGE                   Total Sleep Needed, per night

1 – 4 weeks         15 – 16 hours
1 – 12 months     14 -15 hours
1 – 3 years          12 – 14 hours
3 – 6 years          10 – 12 hours
7 – 12 years        10 – 11 hours
12 – 18 years       8 – 10 hours
Adult 7 – 8 hours

Symptoms which might indicate your child has a sleep problem:
Sleep problems often vary from child to child and are influenced by many things. Some of the common factors which influence sleep are: changes in living arrangements, family structure, death of a loved one, starting school, problems with friends, cyber bullying, low mood or depression. Other children may be afraid to go to sleep on their own, insist on not sleeping alone, or have a long list of demands to delay going to sleep. Have you ever heard “I’m hungry…”, “Can I have a drink?…”, “ I need to go the toilet…” or “Just one more story….”.

Things you can look out for if you think your child has sleep problems:
• Unable to fall asleep quickly or alone
• Waking up often or for long periods during the night
• Snoring or restless sleep
• Frequent nightmares or night terrors
• Going to bed too late, hard to wake or waking too early
• Being tired in the morning
• Problems concentrating
• Problems at school
• Irritability or tantrums

What you can do to help your child learn to sleep
• Check with your doctor if you have concerns about how your child is breathing at night or if they seem to be in any discomfort or pain.
• Encourage and support a healthy diet, regular exercise and time outside. A healthy diet and regular exercise is important for development. Getting out and about will ensure that your child burns energy, is tired at night and ready to sleep.
• Help your child develop their body clock by keeping regular sleep and wake times. This includes weekends. If your child likes to stay up late and sleep in on the weekend a good rule of thumb is to aim for approximately a 2 hour difference between the weekday and the weekend.
• Help your child develop a regular and consistent bedtime routine. This will help children transition between daytime activities and getting ready for sleep. Children like predictability and this helps them get ready to go to sleep.
• Put aside time for your child to relax and wind down before bed. Most adults can’t go to sleep straight away. Kids need time to wind down too. Try relaxing activities such as reading together, listening to gentle music with the lights down low. Take all electronics away (or switch them off) at least 1 hour before bed time (TV, iPads, Games Consoles, Computers etc)
• Provide a comfortable sleep environment, this includes making sure the room is at a good temperature to help promote sleep. Keep the noise levels down after your child has gone to sleep.
• Avoid caffeine drinks, kids don’t need them. For teenagers, avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening.

Sleep Help for Children
Sometimes it can take a while for a sleep problem to be noticed. If you suspect your child has a problem with their sleep look at how they sleep and keep a diary how much sleep they are getting during the night (taking away any awake during the night). If you have concerns about snoring or restlessness record this also. You can then take this to your doctor to discuss your concerns and if needed a referral to a sleep specialist or child psychologist can then be made.


The author of this blog, Janece Famularo, is a clinician at our Loganholm Practice
Raising Children’s Network
Sleep Health Foundation
Sleep Better: A guide to improving sleep for children with special needs. V. Mark Durand

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Mother is tired, crying child

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