Illnesses & Symptoms
Insomnia is a sleep problem that occurs when a person has difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking too early. Insomnia can be short-term due to stress, pain, or a medical condition (such as an earache or cold). It is a common complaint from parents of toddlers who leave their room multiple times a night with questions and requests. It can become long-term (lasting more than a month) if the underlying cause is not treated or healthy sleep practices are not used. Sleep deprivation actually tends to worsen insomnia, so be sure everyone gets the right amount of sleep!
Worrying about the insomnia itself is a cause of chronic insomnia, as are chronic stress, depression, and other chronic illnesses.
Teenagers often have insomnia secondary to a change in the body clock, or circadian rhythm. This change in the circadian rhythm seems to be due to the fact that melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleeping and waking patterns, is produced later at night in teens than it is for kids and adults, making it harder for teens to fall asleep. This is called delayed sleep phase syndrome. Although it is common, delayed sleep phase syndrome doesn't affect every teen.
Changing bedtime behaviors by creating a bedtime routine and setting limits sometimes helps children with insomnia. Most sleep experts agree it is important to allow children to fall asleep on their own. Children can become used to your presence in the room at bedtime and expect it even if they wake during the night.
Tips for Healthy Sleep
Melatonin is a hormone that naturally increases as the sun goes down at night. It helps our bodies fall to sleep. It is available in the natural supplement section of the pharmacy, vitamin store, or health food store. Melatonin comes in both tablet and liquid or spray formulations. Sprays are less likely to contain alcohol than liquid, so read the labels. Most state "not recommended for children" but are generally considered safe for children, they simply have not been tested in children. Dose depends on response, so start low and increase as needed. The liquid forms go UNDER the tongue, where there is more rapid absorption, so less medication is often needed than with swallowed forms. Children can start with 1mg of liquid or 1/2 of a 3 mg tablet (you can crush it or they can chew it) 30 minutes before bedtime. Children may need more if this does is not effective. Most children notice a benefit with 1-3 mg melatonin.
If insomnia is lasting over a month, make an appointment to evaluate for an underlying cause and discuss treatment options.
- exercise early in the day, but avoid within 2 hrs of bedtime
- avoid caffeine (especially after 3pm)
- turn down lights 2 hrs before bedtime
- turn off screens (tv, video games, computers) 2 hrs before bedtime
- keep all televisions out of children's rooms
- avoid eating (especially large meals) before bedtime
- do relaxing activities: read, bath, board games, talk, listen to soothing music
- keep the bedroom cool and dark
- use white noise (such as a fan)
- don't allow kids to stay up late-- when they go from tired to wired, they will have trouble falling to sleep
- stick to the same sleep schedule every night of the week
- keep pets out of the bedroom