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Problems with sleep

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All children can have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. These problems with sleep can have many different causes.

Bedtime routine and sleep environment

Your child needs about an hour of quiet time to wind down and relax for sleep. Too much excitement, noise and activity before bed can get kids revved up and make it harder for them to settle down for sleep when it’s time.

Likewise, a sleep environment that’s too noisy, light, cold or hot can make it harder for children to get to sleep.

Sometimes changes to children’s normal bedtime routine or environment can affect how well they settle down. For example, daylight saving, jet lag, an unfamiliar bedroom or a sleepover can have a child bouncing around when he’d normally be asleep.

Nutrition

What your child eats and drinks can affect her ability to settle down at night.

For example, if children consume caffeine – in energy drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate and cola – especially in the late afternoon and evening, this might keep them awake at night.

Night terrors, nightmares and sleepwalking

If your child sometimes wakes up screaming or crying, it could be a night terror. Night terrors are normal in children aged 4-12 years, and most children outgrow them by the time they’re teenagers.

Your child might also have nightmares. Nightmares or bad dreams can wake children up and make it hard for them to get back to sleep.

Your child might sleepwalk – that is, walk around the house as if he’s awake when he’s actually in a deep sleep. Sleepwalking doesn’t harm your child, but it can upset your family’s sleep. Some parents find it hard to sleep because they worry that children might fall and hurt themselves while sleepwalking.

Although night terrors, nightmares and sleepwalking are all pretty normal, it’s best to talk to your doctor if you’re worried or if your child’s behavior seems severe. Sleepwalking can sometimes be a sign of an illness or medical condition.

Bedwetting and toileting

If your child isn’t dry at night, she might wake because she’s wetting the bed. Or she might wake to go to the toilet and then find it hard to get back to sleep.

You can talk with your child’s doctor if toilet training and bedwetting are problems for your child.

Health and wellbeing

Some children can suffer from illnesses – for example, colds or ear infections – that make it hard for them to settle or sleep well. Chronic illnesses such as asthma or epilepsy can also affect children’s sleep.

Some children snore. If your child snores all the time, even when he’s well, consider talking with your child’s doctor. Snoring can sometimes be a sign of sleep apnea.

Anxiety can affect children’s sleep too. If your child is really anxious or worried about something, she might find it hard to get to sleep, or get back to sleep if she wakes in the night. It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s doctor if your child has sleep problems and a chronic illness or anxiety.

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