Sleep problems in children & adolescents
For many children and families, getting enough sleep works smoothly enough. Some kids, however, find it very difficult to get to sleep, or to get enough sleep. This doesn’t only happen with young children, but adolescents as well. This can be a real headache. Not only for them, but also for you as a family.
Do you worry about your child or teenager’s sleep?
From the age of 4 until the end of primary school, children will spend around 40% of their life asleep. Sleep is crucial for growing, healing, learning, brain development and emotional wellbeing. Not getting enough sleep can be a very disruptive problem.
Sleep problems in young people are common. The impacts of poor sleep include irritability, difficulty concentrating, behaviour disturbance, anxiety, emotional reactivity, tiredness and a lack of energy for school and activities.
At Sleep Matters Perth we treat children’s sleep disorders, including insomnia in children and adolescents.
Causes of insomnia & poor sleep in children
What causes insomnia and poor sleep in a child?
There are a number of factors that create common sleep difficulties in children.
Development StageSleep can be disrupted at different developmental stages. Your child may transitioning out of day-time naps, or may be undergoing a period of rapid cognitive or emotional development. Maybe your child is experiencing typical developmental fears of the dark or being alone at night.
AnxietyA common cause of child insomnia is anxiety. You may find that your child worries about having nightmares, the dark, intruders, or that they are unwilling to go to bed, or unwilling to sleep alone. Some children are prone to strong anxiety or they have a tendency to worry. Psychological treatments and behavioural treatments are often a very effective way to deal with childhood anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the treatment with the most clinical trial evidence behind it, and is the treatment most commonly used by the Sleep Matters team.
Sleep NeedSome children just need less sleep than other children their age. Indeed, there is a broad range of sleep need (see sleep need recommendations). If your child is at the lower end of the recommended range but is happy, healthy, and functioning OK, it may well be that they just don’t need as much sleep as other kids.
Body ClockSome children have a body clock that is naturally set later (night owls), while others have a body clock that is set earlier (early birds). This can make it difficult to sleep according to a set schedule.
Kids can have trouble sleeping in relation to physical health problems such as obstructed breathing (obstructive sleep apnea), pain syndromes, or ADHD.
StressorsIn terms of external circumstances, children’s sleep can be disrupted when the family is going through stress, periods of change, or indeed when the child is having problems with school or friends. Our clinical psychology team is well equipped to assist with these concerns.
BehaviourAs a parent it can be difficult to implement consistent and effective bedtime routines. Some children and teens can become very oppositional at bedtime, making implementation of a consistent bedtime routine challenging. Or maybe this sounds familiar: your child might rely on you being with them in order to fall asleep. It’s common to accidentally foster this kind of reliance. Another behavioural aspect is when both parents are not on the same page. If parents demonstrate opposing views about managing your child’s sleep, it could be causing problems.
How Sleep Matters in Perth can help
Clear feedback and recommendations for how to tackle the problem.
Education and help to build the child’s motivation, hope, and the family’s sense of team-work.
Support, for you and your child, to implement the plan and fine-tune any difficulties.
Causes of insomnia in adolescents
So what may have a negative impact on your teen’s sleep? The causes of insomnia in teens are often related to the physiological shifts their bodies are going through. Teenagers are undergoing a time of significant change in terms of hormone production, brain development, and their social and emotional development. There is also an increasing drive for independence and social contact, increasing stress levels at school, and social pressures. All these factors can come together and have a negative impact on their sleep.
Insomnia, trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both.
Delayed Sleep Phase, a natural shift in the body clock that leads to “late to bed, late to rise”. This is often made worse by unhelpful habits. At Sleep Matters, we often see teenagers with night owl body clocks who are unable to wake up on time for morning commitments. There are effective treatments to correct these body clock disturbances.
Sleep disturbance as a symptom of day-time stress or mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Hyper-somnolence, (excessive sleepiness), linked with depression, fatigue syndromes and other medical conditions.
How we can help
After a careful assessment with one of our experienced clinicians, we use a process of engaging with teenagers directly. We help them to better understand their sleep needs and the impact of unhelpful habits, to build motivation for change, and to explore methods for adopting healthier sleep and daytime patterns.
As the Sleep Matters team are fully qualified Clinical Psychologists, we are well placed to assist with any emotional disturbances such as stress, anxiety and depression that commonly occur alongside sleep difficulties.
It is common for teenagers to be unconcerned (or at least less concerned than parents) about their sleep habits. Although we work hard to assist with motivating our young clients, it is important that your teenager has some motivation to change before embarking on any intervention.