Sleep Problems with Children’s

Many children have sleep problems. Examples include:

• Frequent awakening during the night

• Talking during sleep

• Difficulty falling asleep

• Waking up crying

• Feeling sleepy during the day

• Having nightmares; or

• Bedwetting

• Teeth grinding and clenching

• Waking early

Many childhood sleep problems are related to poor sleep habits or to anxiety about going to bed and falling asleep. Persistent sleep problems may also be symptoms of emotional difficulties. “Separation anxiety” is a developmental landmark for young children. For all young children, bedtime is a time of separation. Some children will do all they can to prevent separation at bedtime. However, to help minimize common sleep problems, a parent should develop consistent bedtime and regular bedtime and sleep routines for children. Parents often find that feeding and rocking help an infant to get to sleep.

However, as the child leaves infancy, parents should encourage the child to sleep without feeding and rocking. Otherwise, the child will have a hard time going to sleep alone. Nightmares are relatively common during childhood. The child often remembers nightmares, which usually involve major threats to the child’s well-being. Nightmares, which begin at a variety of ages, affect girls more often than boys. For some children nightmares are serious, frequent, and interfere with restful sleep.

Sleep terrors (night terrors), sleepwalking, and sleep talking constitute a relatively rare group of sleep disorders, called “parasomnias.” Sleep terrors are different from nightmares. The child with sleep terrors will scream uncontrollably and appear to be awake, but is confused and can’t communicate. Sleep terrors usually begin between ages four and 12. Children who sleepwalk may appear to be awake as they move around, but are actually asleep and in danger of hurting themselves. Sleepwalking usually begins between six and 12. Both sleep terrors and sleepwalking run in families and affect boys more often than girls. Most often, children with these sleep disorders have single or occasional episodes of the disorder. However, when episodes occur several times a night, or nightly for weeks at a time, or interfere with the child’s daytime behavior, treatment by a child and adolescent psychiatrist may be necessary. A range of treatments is available for sleep disorders.

Sleep wake reversal may occur in some teens and may cause problems with daily life. Sleep can also be disturbed by mood disorders, PTSD, substance abuse, ADHD, and anxiety.

Fortunately, as they mature, children usually get over common sleep problems as well as the more serious sleep disorders (parasomnias). However, parents with ongoing concerns should contact their pediatrician or directly seek consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist.


Related To Category : Children

Teenagers, like adults, may experience stress everyday and can benefit from learning stress management skills. Most teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and they do not have the resources to cope. Some sources of stress for teens might include:

school demands and frustrations

negative thoughts and feelings about themselves

changes in their bodies

problems with friends and/or peers at school

unsafe living environment/neighborhood

separation or divorce of parents

chronic illness or severe problems in the family

death of a loved one

moving or changing schools

taking on too many activities or having too high expectations

family financial problems

Some teens become overloaded with stress. When it happens, inadequately managed stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use. When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This “fight, flight, or freeze” response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread.

The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This Arelaxation response” includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well being. Teens that develop a Arelaxation response” and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress.

Parents can help their teen in these ways:

Monitor if stress is affecting their teen’s health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings

Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading

Learn and model stress management skills

Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities

Helping Teenagers with Stress, “Facts for Families,” No. 66 (5/05)

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:

Exercise and eat regularly

Avoid excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation

Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco

Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques)

Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite firm and not overly aggressive or passive ways: (“I feel angry when you yell at me” “Please stop yelling.”)

Rehearse and practice situations which cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious

Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks

Decrease negative self talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. “My life will never get better” can be transformed into “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help”

Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others

Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress

Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way

By using these and other techniques, teenagers can begin to manage stress. If a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or qualified mental health professional may be helpful.


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