The sleep disorders that we can find are very varied. Generally, we tend to group them under two categories: parasomnias and dysomnias.
Parasomnias are those disorders that affect sleep, when a series of behavioral disturbances and abnormal phenomena occur while sleeping. The most common in children are nightmares, night terrors or sleepwalking.
Dysomnias are disorders that affect the quantity and quality of sleep, often by making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. The most common dysomnia is insomnia.
Although we usually associate insomnia with adults, we must bear in mind that children can also suffer from this sleep disorder.
In fact, childhood insomnia is so common that it is estimated that between 25 and 30 percent of pediatric consultations are related to sleep problems in children, and most of these cases are due to sleep problems. to fall asleep.
There are several types of insomnia. For example, it can cause great difficulty in falling asleep or it can result in multiple frequent awakenings during the night. These awakenings are common in newborn babies or babies of a few months. They are due to the fact that sleep rhythms, which are quite stable in adults, do not work the same in children.
During the first months, babies need many more hours of sleep , up to 17 hours in newborns, but sleep is divided into cycles of only three or four hours. With the passage of time, the periods of wakefulness and activity in babies are lengthened, while the hours of sleep are reduced and the cycles are lengthened little by little.
By nine months, babies usually sleep 9 hours a night and two big naps, one in the morning and one at night. At around 18 months, the child sleeps only two times, at night and during naps. Around the age of five, about 10 hours of sleep throughout the night are sufficient.
However, although as we say awakenings are frequent in babies, insomnia can affect babies as young as 6 months. Parents describe their babies’ sleep as “bad” from the beginning. They recall that it was often difficult for them to fall asleep, they woke up more times than usual, and later found it difficult to fall asleep again. They can wake up up to 15 times throughout the night. Therefore, it would be possible to diagnose childhood insomnia before six months, but it is around that age that the real existence of the disorder generally begins to be discussed.
CAUSES OF CHILDHOOD INSOMNIA
The presence of childhood insomnia can be due to different causes, which can be behavioral, psychological or medical.
The most common causes are poor sleep habits . It is often difficult for parents to establish a series of routines in order to establish a good bedtime habit. These routines are essential to help children sleep, in the right way and at the right time. Regardless of the method that parents use, from more purely behavioral methods to the practice of co-sleeping, we must teach children a series of behaviors that will always be carried out before going to sleep. Thus, we will help the little ones to anticipate the moment of sleep or to go back to sleep if they have woken up. If it is concluded that these bad habits are the cause of childhood insomnia, we must establish the appropriate guidelines, if possible with the help of a child psychologist.
Another cause that can generate insomnia is stress. Yes, young children can also suffer stress, due to family problems, fears, over-activation, irregular hours … In short, the lack of security can generate in children a state that makes it difficult for them to sleep, especially in children older than three years. It is likely that, also in this case, the implementation of appropriate routines will help to improve the situation. In any case, in these cases, a psychological evaluation that rules out other emotional disorders may be recommended.
We must not forget the medical causes that may be generating childhood insomnia. Some of the most common problems are:
– Pain: It is likely that alterations that cause pain to children affect their sleep. Some situations are frequent, such as otitis, colic , fever … In these cases, the pain will be temporary and as a consequence, so will episodes of insomnia. It is important to assess the presence of chronic pain.
– Allergies : The discomfort of allergies can also alter children’s sleep.
– Enuresis : It is an involuntary urination that, although it is normal at night in young children, in older children it can be an added stress that alters their sleep, for fear of wetting the bed.
IS THERE A MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR CHILDHOOD INSOMNIA?
There are sleep-inducing drugs for young children. Some pediatricians tend to recommend them; others prescribe them under pressure from their own parents.
As we have seen, there are different causes for childhood insomnia and, therefore, there are also different solutions. Children are likely to need some type of medication if the insomnia is due to a medical cause, with the aim of solving the problem that causes the insomnia.
However, the sleep-inducing drugs themselves have been shown to have little beneficial effect on insomnia and even some side effects. In any case, they would help induce sleep, but would not solve the alteration.
The most advisable thing is to take psychological treatment as the first treatment option , in order to solve the most frequent problems that cause insomnia. In addition, behavioral guidelines and establishing routines are often the most effective methods of helping children sleep.