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Common Sleep Problems In Children

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At times your child would not want to sleep at night. This can cause chaos as you try and get your child to go to bed and they just simply refuse. Your child can also start to get out of bed as soon as you leave the room or begin to wake up two or three times during the night. This is quite a common problem among children. It's important to deal with it as soon as it happens so your child understands that nights are for sleeping.

Sleeping Difficulties

Even though all children look like angels while they are sleeping, it doesn't always begin that way when trying to put your child to sleep. At some point or another, it is typical for a child to refuse to go to bed, wake during the night or even make bedtimes impossible. This causes frustration in both parents and the child. The strategies that are listed in the table below will enable you to deal with any of the sleeping difficulties that your child presents during bedtime.

Below are some techniques you can use to deal with the common difficulties in getting your child to sleep:

My child refuses to go to bed

  • Establish a bedtime routine.
  • No entertainment before bed. Your child will most likely refuse to go to bed when they are distracted by something else. If they are watching a favourite T.V show, a movie or playing games they would prefer to continue that, than going to bed. It’s best to make it as “boring” as possible for your child in order to get them to sleep. Have all entertainment off half an hour before bed time begins.
  • Explain to your child about what is happening. For e.g. “After you have put on your pyjamas, I will read you a story in bed and then it’s time for sleep”.
  • Make it clear that you are not going to change your mind about when they should go to bed. For e.g. “I understand that you may be feeling angry because you don’t want to go to bed. We need a good night’s rest so we have lots of energy to play when we wake up. It’s time for your bedtime now, so you can get lots of your energy back”. If you explain to your child why they have to do something, they will understand and more likely to do it. Screaming doesn't always help!

If your child has difficulty getting to sleep, they will likely to resist a new sleep routine rather stubbornly. So it may take a couple of weeks to see results. It's important for you to remain strong and continue with the bedtime routine in order to get results.

My child gets out of bed as soon as I leave the room

  • It is vital that you resist the urge to pick your child up, look sympathetic or even begin reasoning with them about why they need to be in bed.
  • Do not “reward” your child in any way. When using stickers it may seem like a quick fix in dealing with the problem but what happens when all the stickers run out?
  • Insist firmly that they have to go back to bed. For e.g. “It’s time for bed”.
  • Even if your child begins throwing a tantrum do not respond. Your child will begin to see that they cannot get a response from you, get bored and begin staying in bed.
  • If your child does decide to leave their room, simply take them by the hand, lead them to their bed, tuck them in, say “goodnight” and leave. Do not react at all, even if your child begins crying and screaming to get your attention, ignore it.

My child has developed a habit of waking up two or three times during the night

  • It is important to keep your child in their bed when they wake during the night.
  • If your child begins to cry or call out, you should go to them but try to prevent your child from leaving their bed.
  • If your child insists on using the toilet, take them back to bed as soon as possible.
  • Tell your child that they will soon fall asleep and then leave the room. Don't go back immediately if your child calls out to you – wait at least five minutes before you respond.

My child consistently drags out bedtime for longer

  • Give your child a last drink of water or milk before they begin their bedtime routine.
  • Finish any toileting before your child goes to bed. Don't get sidetracked into long negotiations.
  • Tell your child that they had just had something to drink or just went to the toilet. Repeat your bedtime phrase to your child. They will soon get the message that you will not give into their demand.

Should I offer a snack or something to drink to my child if they wake during the night?

It is best not to give in and offer your child a snack or something to drink (unless they are really thirsty).

If you begin offering your toddler something when they wake up, they will soon realize that waking up during the night is fun because they will be getting loads of attention from you. If this happens rest assured that your child will be waking up each and every night.

Stick to your original plan of action and soon enough your child will begin sleeping through the night.

Sleeping Problems

For both younger children and older children there are a variety of common sleeping problems that could interrupt a good night’s rest. Typically sleeping problems (nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors etc.) begin when there is a change in the family, such as an arrival of a new baby, divorce, death in the family etc. anything that may change your child’s normal routine. When dealing with sleeping problems it’s important to be understanding and with your help and support your child will overcome them in a matter of time.

Below are some strategies you can use to deal with the common problems in getting your child to sleep.


A scary dream that awakens your child during the middle of the night. After a nightmare your child becomes fearful and can recount what happened in the dream. Usually a nightmare takes place during the second half of the night, when dreaming is more intense. Once the nightmare is over, it is common for a child to have trouble going back to sleep as they are still remembering the details of their dream. For a child it is common to have a nightmare to occur after watching a scary movie or was faced in a frightening situation (for e.g. you went to the supermarket and your child couldn't find you for a while). Here’s how to deal with nightmares:

  • Quickly go to your child.
  • Tell your child “I’m here, I’m here, and I’m not going to let anything hurt you”.
  • Comfort and calm your child.
  • Put on a night light in your child’s room.
  • Listen and encourage your child to tell you what happened in their dream.
  • Reinforce that they are alright, the dream is over and that you are here with them.
  • Give your child a teddy to cuddle up to or something small to put underneath their pillow.
  • It’s best to leave the night light on after a nightmare has occurred.

It is fairly common after a nightmare has occurred for your child to want you to stay in their room with them. This is perfectly alright; however try not to fall asleep with your child in their bed. You can sit down next to the bed and comfort your child until they fall asleep or you can tell your child you will stay for 10 minutes and then go back to bed. You can also buy a dream catcher to put above the bed that “catches bad dreams”. This may help put your child at ease.

Night Terrors

Although more severe than a nightmare it is less common in children. Night terrors mostly occur in toddlers and preschoolers and happen during the deepest stage of sleep. A child that experiences a night terror cannot be awakened or comforted. There are some common signs that you can watch for in order to determine whether your child is having a night terror. These include: sweating, shaking, crying, fast breathing, screaming, kicking, glassy-eyes appearance and staring.

During night terrors, your child will not awake and may not realize you are with them, recognize you or even begin lashing out at you when you try to wake them. Once the night terror is over your child will fall back to sleep, even though they didn’t wake. Typically a night terror could last up to 45 minutes but usually lasts a lot shorter. Like nightmares, night terrors are more likely to occur during times of stress, changes in family circumstances or in dealing with fears. Here’s how to deal with night terrors:

  • Take a deep breath and try to remain calm.
  • Do not wake your child up.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t hurt themselves while they are having a night terror.
  • Gently restrain your child if they try to get out of bed.
  • After the night terror, your child will relax and sleep quietly again.

When dealing with night terrors in your child, there is not a lot you can do while it’s happening. Night terrors are usually more frightening for the parents than for the child. A child cannot remember a night terror dream and never become fully awake so it doesn't bother the child. If night terrors occur, keep your child on a consistent bedtime routine and increase the amount of sleep your child gets.

Sleep Talking & Sleep Walking

During these episodes, your child may have a blank staring face and be difficult to waken. They don’t often remember why they have gotten out of bed in the first place (sleep walking) or recall what they have said (sleep talking). Children that are sleepwalkers often go back to bed by themselves and often this can occur repeatedly throughout the night. Here’s how to deal with sleep talking and sleep walking:

  • It’s important to make sure that your child doesn't hurt themselves while sleepwalking. It’s best to clear your child’s bedroom area of potential hazards that may cause them to trip or fall.
  • Block stairways during the night, to prevent your child from going up or down.
  • Lock doors and windows leading to outside, so your child cannot leave the house.

While your child is sleep walking there is no need to wake your child up. Gently lead them back to bed and they will generally settle down on their own. Although uncommon, sleep walking and sleep talking typically run in families and occur mostly when your child is over tired. Keep your child on a consistent bedtime routine and ensure they go to bed at a suitable time to ensure plenty of sleep.

Bed Wetting (Enuresis)

This is most common among preschoolers; however it does affect some older children. It also tends to run in families. The common reasons your child may be bed wetting can include: not being able to recognize a full bladder, the bladder hasn’t fully developed to hold urine for an entire night and changes in family circumstances. Here’s how to deal with bed wetting:

  • Don’t punish or blame your child for wetting the bed.
  • Best to avoid giving your child large amounts of fluid before going to bed.
  • Put a rubber or plastic cover over the mattress (or) depending on your child’s age (4 years and below) you could buy night time pull ups.
  • Depending on your child’s age, encourage them to help change the sheets and wet covers. This will help teach responsibility and involve them in handling the problem. NOT TO BE USED AS A PUNISHMENT.

Bed wetting is typically beyond a child’s control and they are usually sad and embarrassed when it does occur. It’s important not to put any pressure on your child and help your child to understand that it will get better over time.

Dealing with your child’s sleeping difficulties and sleeping problems may be challenging. It is normal to become frustrated and angry when your child keeps you from sleeping at night. During this point, try to be understanding. It’s also frustrating for your child and even though it may seem like it, they are not doing it on purpose. Instead of making the sleeping difficulties and problems disappear you can potential make it worse, especially when dealing with stressful situations and changes in family life. Take a deep breath and deal with it appropriately by using the strategies and techniques listed in this article.

Created On December 29, 2014 Last modified on Wednesday, December 31, 2014
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