Illnesses & Symptoms
Many kids suffer from trouble sleeping at some point. Learn how to help them because sleep is so important. If you continue to have problems, be sure to talk to us about it.
Bedwetting is not uncommon in younger years, but later on may suggest another sleep disorder. For more information, visit our bedwetting page.
Insomnia occurs when a person has difficulty falling asleep, is unable to stay asleep, and/or wakes up too early. See our Insomnia page for complete information on insomnia, including a supplement that might help sleep.
Nightmares and night terrors
Nightmares are frightening dreams that occur during REM sleep and awaken a child. Night terrors occur earlier in the night and do not fully awaken the child. Learn more about nightmares and night terrors.
There are now a number of studies that suggest there is a link between sleep loss and weight gain. Some of these studies (in adults) have looked at how sleep deprivation changes the body’s normal metabolism and hormone function. Not getting enough sleep affects how efficiently you metabolize calories, and even how hungry you feel by altering the level of a number of hormones in the body. Think about how many times you’ve tried to perk up mid-day with a high carb snack.
Other research has shown that the less you sleep, the more likely you are to be obese. A study has shown that children who got less than eight hours of sleep had an almost three times greater risk of being obese compared to children who got ten or more hours. Also, the risk of being obese decreases with each additional hour that your child sleeps! This may well be the single greatest argument you’ll ever have in getting your teenage daughter to go to bed at a reasonable hour! See also the information on snoring and sleep apnea below, since being overweight increases the risk of this problem (about 2/3 of children with sleep apnea are overweight).
The problem of obesity has a domino effect: Obesity leads to daytime fatigue, which makes kids less active, which eventually leads to more weight gain, which makes kids more tired and so on. As already mentioned, children who watch a lot of television and spend most of their time in sedentary activities are more likely to be overweight. They are also more likely to have sleep problems which, in turn, may result in their being less active, gaining more weight, and then developing more sleep problems. Work with your provider if your child is overweight, even if you haven’t noticed associated problems yet.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid goes up into the esophagus, commonly called heartburn. GERD may also be associated with frequent ear infections, wheezing and tooth decay. The symptoms of GERD can be worse when a person is lying down. Learn more about gastroesophageal reflux.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder that includes uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings (e.g., crawly, cramping, burning, tingly, or itchy) in the legs (or sometimes arms) causing an overwhelming urge to move or involuntary movements. These feelings make it difficult to fall asleep. RLS can be treated with changes in bedtime routines, increased iron, and possibly prescription medications. Make an appointment with your child's physician if RLS is a concern to begin an evaluation and treatment plan.
Sleep needs vary by age. Too little sleep can worsen many sleep related disorders. Learn more about normal sleep needs by age.
Sleep talking occurs when the child talks, laughs or cries out in his/her sleep. As with sleep terrors, the child is unaware and has no memory of the incident the next day. There is usually no need to treat sleep talking.
Sleepwalking happens with up to 40 percent of children, usually between 3-7 years old. Sleepwalking usually occurs an hour or two after sleep onset and may last five to 20 minutes. Sleepwalkers usually don’t remember sleepwalking. It is potentially dangerous since a child may fall down stairs or trip on objects, so it is helpful if an adult helps the child get safely back to bed. Gate stairs and close doors to help prevent falling. Sleepwalking may run in families. It most often occurs when a person is sick, has a fever, is not getting enough sleep, or is feeling stress. As sleep deprivation often contributes to sleepwalking, moving bedtime earlier can be helpful. Children tend to outgrow sleepwalking by the teenage years.
Snoring occurs when there is a partial blockage in the airway that causes a noise due to the vibration of the back of the throat. About 10-12 percent of normal children regularly snore. Snoring can be caused by nasal congestion, obesity, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils that block the airway. Some children who snore may have sleep apnea, which is pauses in breathing from obstruction to the airway.
If your child snores regularly or loudly, stops breathing, gasps for breath, or works particularly hard to breathe while sleeping, (s)he may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is associated with many things that resolve with the treatment of the underlying problem causing the apnea. Associated conditions include ADHD, bedwetting, excessive daytime sleepiness, behavior problems, and tooth grinding. If your child snores, please make an appointment with your child's physician for an exam and to discuss treatment options.
Helpful hints for good sleep
Keep the sleeping room quiet (background “white” noise helps some), at a cool temperature, and secure (check closets and under the bed for toddlers/preschoolers who are afraid).
Set regular sleep times that allow enough sleep for your child’s age. Keep bedtime the same, even on weekends.
Encourage outdoor and physical activity. Schedule time for your child to be outdoors and to spend at least thirty minutes a day being physically active. Limit activities within 1-2 hours before bedtime to calm down.
Less screen time
Limit television viewing, computer time and video games. Cut back on all the electronics all day, but especially for 2 hours before bedtime! Never allow a television or video game system in a child’s bedroom!
Limit fatty foods and foods high in calories. Allow junk foods only for special occasions. Limit juice to fruit only juice at 6 ounces or less per day. Only allow soda pop once a week. Eat out no more than once a week. Discourage between-meal snacks. Encourage plenty of water daily. Watch out for school lunches, as they are often high-calorie, high-fat. Ask if your child’s school limits use of the vending machines.
Allow caffeinated beverages occasionally for older school age children only, and only before 4:00 pm. Remember caffeine is not good for anyone and young children should never have it.
Being sick disrupts sleep
Stay healthy by washing hands, receiving flu immunizations yearly and stay home to rest when you are ill.
For more sleep help, see Sleep Tips.
Sleep Help for Tweens and Teens
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Lights, especially tv and computer screens and fluorescent lights, inhibit melatonin, which is a hormone that helps you fall to sleep. Darken rooms near bedtime and turn off all screens and fluorescent lights 2 hours before bedtime.
- Always fall asleep in your bed, not in front of the television.
- Try to be in your bed at least 8 hours per day. Many teens need 9 to 11 hours to not feel sleepy during the day.
- Try to go to bed at approximately the same time every night, even weekends!
- Open the curtains or turn on the lights as soon as you get up in the morning — light helps wake you up.
- Be active every day, but avoid vigorous exercise in the evening.
- Avoid all products with caffeine after mid-day.
- Avoid napping during the day. If you do, keep it short (less than 30 minutes).
- On weekends, no matter how late you go to bed, try to get up within 2 hours of your usual wake time.
- Have a light snack (such as a glass of milk) before bed.
- Use your bed for sleeping only, do not do homework, watch television or spend time talking on the telephone while in your bed.
- If thoughts keep you up at night, journal before bed. This allows you to get your thoughts together, then forget about them until later!
- Avoid using any products to help you sleep (including alcohol and over-the-counter sleep aids).
- If you do find the need for something to help you sleep, use melatonin supplements.
- For some teens with chronic fatigue, the symptom has become a vicious cycle — fatigue limits what the teen is able to do, then inactivity and isolation lead to deconditioning and mood changes, which results in further fatigue.
- For some teens, the fatigue is triggered by something, e.g., an illness, or a time when competing demands have left the teen physically and emotionally overwhelmed with too many obligations.
- Unexplained fatigue in teens is common and is probably related to the combination of rapid physical and psychological change, which can leave some teens feeling exhausted.
- Fatigue is manageable and most teens recover, although sometimes this takes months or even years. Work with your provider to get help and rule out medical causes!