What are sleep problems in children?
Many babies and young children have problems sleeping at first. But if children are still not sleeping through the night by the age of 2 years, they may have a sleep problem. All of this information is for children over the age of 2.
There are three main sorts of sleep problems:
- Too little sleep
- Nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking
- Too much sleep.
The first two are the most common in children. We don't know exactly what causes some children to have sleep problems. There are probably many different reasons. Here are some examples:
- Children learn certain sleep patterns. For example, if you give them lots of attention or treats when they wake at night, they may learn that waking at night is a good thing. These learned patterns may be behind some sleep problems.
- Young children have more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep than adults. REM sleep is when your brain is very active, but your body is limp. Most dreaming happens during REM sleep. This type of sleep is often linked to short periods of waking. Young children may need help to get back to sleep after waking from a dream.1
- Some children have a sleep problem because their body clock is disrupted. The body clock is sometimes called the circadian rhythm. It makes you feel sleepy at night, when it's dark, and lively during the daytime. Sometimes this gets out of sync, like, for example, when you have jet lag from travelling.
Certain things make your child more likely to get a sleep problem. These are known as risk factors
. They include:
- Having had colic as a baby2
- Being the first-born child3
- Having a difficult temperament (for example, being easily excited, moody or stubborn).4
Sleep problems are often worse in children with physical or learning disabilities
This includes children who have epileptic seizures, autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (or ADHD for short).6
We don't fully know why. But:
- Children with sight problems who can't see light, which controls their body clock, may get a disrupted body clock.
- Many medicines can cause sleep problems. For example, drugs used to treat epilepsy can make you very drowsy.
- Some genetic disorders cause sleep disturbance. Children with Down's syndrome may have disrupted sleep because of breathing problems.