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Causes of Insomnia in Children

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Sleep Apnea, Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
A family is happy and healthy after helping their daughter with pediatric insomnia

Help Your Child Get The Rest They Need

Insomnia, a condition in which people experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, affects not only adults but also an increasing number of children. Unfortunately, pediatric insomnia results in issues like attention difficulties and aggressive or disruptive behavior.

Parents and caregivers who aim to reduce the impact of pediatric insomnia on their children’s well-being must understand the underlying causes of the disorder. Reston, VA, sleep specialist Dr. Liliana Calkins explores some causes of insomnia in children, shedding light on this important yet often overlooked issue.

Pre-Sleep Activities That Can Lead to Pediatric Insomnia

The period leading up to bedtime can significantly impact a child’s ability to fall asleep. The following activities may contribute to the development of pediatric insomnia:

Physical Activities  

Research suggests exercise and competitive sports can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. On the other hand, engaging in sedentary activities during the day has been associated with increased sleep latency, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

The effects of sedentary activities or sports can vary depending on the time of day they engage in physical activities. However, the relationship between physical activity and sleep is inconsistent across studies and may vary based on age group.

Doing Afterschool Activities

Studies show homework and dinner schedules can influence a child’s pre-sleep routine. Because these activities often occur in the evening, they may indirectly impact a child’s quality of sleep and the time it takes to fall asleep.

Watching Television or Playing Video Games

Researchers have identified the use of electronic devices and engagement with social media as significant contributors to delayed sleep onset. Studies have also shown that spending time with family before bed may have the opposite effect and lead to decreased risk of insomnia.

A study involving over 300 Swiss adolescents revealed a negative correlation between the amount of screen time in the evening and the number of hours of sleep, while off-screen activities didn’t show the same impact. In the same study, some participants voluntarily avoided screen time after 9 p.m. As a result, their sleep duration increased, and their daytime vigilance improved. Additionally, a meta-analysis of studies involving children under age five shows more time spent daily using electronic devices can negatively affect sleep duration.

How Can a Child’s Bedtime Routine Contribute to Insomnia?

Certain patterns within the bedtime routine may inadvertently contribute to insomnia. For instance, stimulating electronic devices in the bedroom can interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep, as these devices captivate their attention and delay sleep. These stimulating devices can include:

  • Televisions
  • Laptops 
  • Tablets 
  • Cell phones
  • Video games 

Factors such as having siblings or other children in the bedroom or living in a loud or unsafe neighborhood can disturb a child’s sleep as well. Noise, disturbances, or feelings of insecurity can delay sleep onset and lead to restless nights. 

Parental Influence on a Child’s Sleeping Habits

Many children grow dependent on falling asleep with a parent or caregiver next to them. This reliance on external comfort can make it harder for the child to fall asleep or go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Some children may also exhibit stalling behavior at bedtime to gain increased attention from their parents or caregiver. When parents give them the attention they seek, kids have a harder time settling down and falling asleep.

Disorders and Conditions That Cause Insomnia

Aside from the habits that children adopt before bed, certain disorders and medical conditions can have insomnia as a symptom, such as:

Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder

Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder is a common condition in teenagers. It means a person’s natural sleep patterns differ from what’s expected or needed for a regular daily routine. Some symptoms include having difficulty initiating sleep and aligning sleep patterns with societal norms.

Restless Legs Syndrome 

Restless legs syndrome is a movement disorder characterized by an urge to move the legs while asleep. Many patients with this disorder suffer from discomfort and sleep disturbances at night.

Anxiety or Depression

Many children experience fears and anxiety that interfere with their sleep and require professional assistance when persistent. In addition, two percent of school-aged children also suffer from depression, which has symptoms like:

  • Insomnia
  • Lack of interest or pleasure
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired concentration
  • Weight and appetite changes

Need Guidance on Insomnia and Other Child Sleep Disorders?

If you suspect your child’s insomnia may be related to underlying issues or require professional assistance, we recommend consulting with Sunrise Orthodontics and Airway and Sleep Group. Contact us for an appointment at our Reston, VA, sleep solutions office by calling (571) 244-7329.

Airway & Sleep Group

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Reston, VA 20191

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