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Armin Brott - Mr Dad

Armin Brott - Mr Dad

Armin Brott is a nationally recognized parenting expert. The leading author of books on fatherhood, his best-selling works have sold millions of copies worldwide.

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Child Losing Sleep

Q: Dear Mr. Dad: Our daughter is still awake two or three hours after we put her to bed, singing and telling herself stories. As a result, she wakes up grumpy and has even fallen asleep at her desk in school. But by bedtime, she’s wide awake until midnight or later. We’re worried that her poor sleep habits are going to interfere with her progress at school. Why do some kids have insomnia? What can we do?

A: Occasional insomnia can be caused by a change in schedule—such as going back to school after a vacation—too much sugar or caffeine (an ingredient in chocolate and many sodas) throughout the day or too close to bedtime, or stress, either family- or school-related. Some studies have suggested that when parents don’t enforce a consistent bedtime, they may inadvertently encourage sleeplessness in a child by not establishing a predictable routine.

It normally takes anywhere from a few seconds to 40 minutes to fall asleep. Sleep specialists consider anything more than about 40 minutes an indicator of insomnia (and anything less than about 5 minutes to be an indicator of overtiredness). Insomnia is a sleep disturbance, a symptom, not a disease. The best way to treat insomnia is to identify and treat the cause.

When insomnia happens every night, the child’s temperament is the most likely culprit. Children with severe insomnia tend to be more nervous, irritable, intense, high strung, excitable and easily upset than other children. Since these are also characteristics associated with ADD and/or ADHD, it’s worth checking out any possible biological factors contributing to your daughter’s sleeplessness, particularly if she gets wound up during the day and has trouble turning her motor off at night. Researchers are currently studying the possibility that many of the typical symptoms of ADD/ADHD may, at least for some children, be due to lack of sleep. So far, their results have been inconclusive.

But even children without ADD may display symptoms such as hyperactivity when they’re sleep deprived, so it’s important to check with a medical specialist. Unlike adults who tend to get sluggish after a late night, children seem to get energized, which is why kids often seem to be bouncing off the walls even though they’re exhausted.

Children need anywhere from 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night. But with after-school activities, homework, and parents desires to still spend some quality time with their children, few of them are getting as much sleep as they need. What's more, children nowadays are bombarded with unsettling information from both television news and the entertainment industry, telling them that the world is a dangerous place. Even a fast-paced or violent computer game can overwhelm even the calmest child. All that stimulation can leave kids feeling out of control and vulnerable, which increases stress. It’s hard to get to sleep when you’re stressed or worried.

Instead of letting your child sack out in front of the television or computer with a can of soda at night, try some of these ways to ensure a few minutes of relaxing downtime before bedtime:

Avoid beverages and snacks with caffeine after 4:00 p.m., and avoid strenuous physical activity for a couple of hours before bedtime.
Have a set bedtime.
Establish a bedtime routine that’s peaceful and calm, such as having a warm bath, then reading for a few minutes.
Provide a relaxed environment for your child at night. Turn down the lights and play soothing music.
If your child is having sleep problems, keep a daily record of when she falls asleep and wakes. Talk to your doctor, and ask whether he or she feels a sleep evaluation is necessary.
Make sure your child’s room is dark and that the temperature isn’t too warm or too cool.
Remove pets from your child’s bedroom. Not only are the sounds distracting, but pets provide a bedtime playmate that keeps your child awake.
If you think your child is experiencing stress, encourage her to talk about it.
If she’s still having trouble falling asleep, encourage her to try a calming mind exercise, like counting backward from 100 with her eyes closed.

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