Does your child have a problem sleeping?

Learn the best ways to deal with a child that has a problem sleeping and recommended hours of sleep for each age. As mentioned in my free eBook, a child's sleep problems can lead to developing attention difficulties, frequent illness, hyperactivity, impulsivity, developmental delays, and behavioral problems.

For some children with a child behavior problem, if there are also sleep problems, simply focusing on getting the child to sleep more will often relieve a lot of the behavioral issues as well.

The national sleep foundation recommend the following number of total hours of sleep per day including naps by age group:

Recommended hours of sleep
Sleeping child that has been having a Problem sleeping

One common belief is that the child has a problem sleeping because of the hyperactivity, delay, or behavioral problems. However, it is difficult to determine whether the sleep problems may actually be the cause of overactivity, delays and behavior problems instead of vice versa.

A sleeping problem is more common in a child that has sensory processing disorder because of the child's inability to calm the nervous system enough to stay sleeping. The child with this disorder may continue to feel sensory stimulations from simple activities long after the activity has stopped. This is similar to when you still feel like you are on a boat or an amusement park ride hours later after you have already gone home.

Recommendations for children with a problem sleeping

The following tips account for environmental factors that can disturb sleeping patterns, cause hyperactivity, attention problems and a behavioral problem. By limiting these triggers, a child will be more likely to sleep, and therefore potentially have less behavioral problems.

The practices outlined must be used consistently for at least 2-3 weeks for a child that has a problem sleeping. Unfortunately, because it can take 2-3 weeks of consistent use before seeing results, many parents give up. Proper sleep is necessary to brain function and development. When children have a problem sleeping and do not get the recommended amount of daily sleep each day our bodies simply cannot function as they should.

You may also want to strongly consider looking at symptoms of sensory disorders to see if this may be causing your child's sleep problems. One treatment for children affected by this disorder called the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol has reportedly had a positive effect on some children's sleeping habits. Our son had a terrible sleeping problem, but started doing much better after we implemented this protocol along with a sensory diet. The following are intended to be used in combination with each other to see the best results.

Limit caffeine and sugar.
Caffeine can stay in the body up to 12 hours, so even if a child is drinking caffeine around 4 p.m. it may still affect his or her sleep.

Being that chocolate milk has caffeine, drinking this for dinner could affect your child’s sleeping. Sugar is also in almost everything we eat, so accounting for all sugar consumption and ensuring that it is within the recommended daily amounts, eliminates this as a contributing factor for a child with a problem sleeping.

• You may consider using a homeopathic sleep aid for kids. I have personally used this particular one with my son and found it to work well. It is especially great for those nights that a child wakes up and won't go back to sleep because you can give it every 15 minutes until symptoms are resolved.

Limit television, video games, and computers in the evening, not allowing any at least one hour prior to bedtime.
Artificial light disturbs the body’s natural ability to release melatonin (a hormone that aids in sleep) and low melatonin causes difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. A study reported in pediatrics shows that children watching as little as two hours of television a day had a problem sleeping, including bedtime refusals, difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep, and daytime sleepiness.

Do not allow your child to have a TV in his or her bedroom.
This common practice is also linked to sleeping difficulties and poor sleep quality, especially if your child claims to have a problem sleeping without the TV on and is using it as a sleeping aid.

This is a bad habit that should be broken as soon as possible. You may need to ween your child off the TV initially if this is the case, but ultimately getting the TV out of the bedroom is in your child's best interest.

Dim lights around the house approximately one hour prior to bedtime.

Get a white noise machine for the bedroom (Fan, Air purifier or Ocean CD work well also) and darkened blinds. This helps to keep light and noise out of the room, especially during naps or in the summer when the days are longer. Even the slightest noises can disturb sleeping patterns.

I love the lullaby soundspa machine! It has a rotating projector with three disks of different pictures of fish, moon/stars, and birds that shine on the ceiling, as well as music or the sound of rain to use as white noise. This is a great alternative to TV for children that need something to watch while falling asleep.

Develop a bedtime routine.
Do this routine consistently in the same order each night and a shorter similar routine for naptimes. You may consider using a picture schedule to help your child know what the routine will be each night.

pictures schedule using pecs

Bedtime should be earlier in the evening
This is so that the child is able to get the number of recommended hours of sleep based on his/her typical wake up time.

Use behavior charts to reinforce behaviors, such as staying in bed and going to bed immediately following a routine without any arguments.

printable reward charts
sticker or incentive charts to print
printable behavior chart

It is highly recommended that children aged 2-5 years old have a bedtime of 7:30 or 8:00 p.m.
Later bedtimes often result in a child that is overtired. When the body is overtired, which often happens when a child has a problem sleeping, it releases cortisol as a way to deal with the stress of fatigue.

Cortisol, as you may know, is a corticosteroid hormone, which results in the wired state you may notice from time to time, AKA “the second wind.” It also can cause another problem, such as attention and memory difficulties, impulsivity, hyperactivity and weight gain, when the body releases it too frequently.

Some parents say that their children just aren’t tired around 8:30 and are running all over the house with tons of energy, so they end up putting them to bed around 9:30 or 10:00 when their body crashes. This can result in poor sleeping quality, night waking and limited sleep hours.

Allow children to learn to fall asleep by themselves.
If you have a child that has a problem sleeping through the night and he or she does not know how to fall asleep by him or herself, you will always need to get up and aid in helping him/her fall back asleep.

Whatever is used to help him or her fall asleep initially will be necessary to also help him or her fall asleep after waking up at night. One drug free method of helping your child fall asleep at night is to place a cold pack or cold spa neck wrap on the back of the neck 15 minutes prior to bedtime. This causes the body to naturally release melatonin, aiding him or her to fall asleep.

As an infant my son had a terrible problem sleeping until he was about 8 months old. After reading and applying the methods in the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth M.D, my son finally began sleeping through the night (until we had some issues arise around 2 years old). This book was my savior when my son was an infant. I highly recommend reading it for parents of infants with sleep problems.

He provides great insight on how to teach your child to fall asleep on his or her own, specific times during the day your child should be napping according to the body’s natural circadian rhythms, instructions regarding a specific sleeping problem along with other very helpful information.

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