Sleep Disorders in Children – Children Sleep Problems

There are a number of common causes of children sleep problems, which include sleep deprivation, night waking, sleep onset associations, separation anxiety, resistance to sleep and settling problems and parasomnias.

Sleep Deprivation

Any sleep disorder can lead to sleep deprivation, which can affect a child’s physical and mental wellbeing as well as their performance in school and in other social activities. Sleep deprivation amongst children is becoming more and more commonplace in today’s society, to its detriment, as it has many debilitating effects on an otherwise healthy child’s life.

Night Waking

This refers to times when a child sleeps lightly and wakes up without any obvious reason such as discomfort or a loud noise. This is quite normal if it happens occasionally, as, just like adults, children cannot remain in deep sleep every hour of the night. However, when night waking starts occurring on a regular basis or the child consistently has problems falling asleep then some form of treatment is needed.

Meet the Experts: Sleep Disorders Explained

Sleep Onset Associations

Sleep Onset Associations refer to what children associate with dropping off to sleep, such as being rocked to sleep by a parent or sucking on a soother. Children will also associate the same things should they also awaken suddenly in the night.

The most positive sleep onset associations are the ones that do not include parents or anyone else for that matter.

To encourage a good night’s sleep for your child, put them to bed when they are sleepy but not completely asleep. By putting your child in their own bed when they are drowsy but still awake, they are learning to become independent by going to sleep by themselves. This in turn helps to foster self confidence in the child together with a sense of accomplishment.

Children with moody or temperamental dispositions generally need the comfort of sleep onset associations even more so than other children do.

Separation Anxiety most often occurs in children under the age of three. By the time, a child reaches eight or nine months old, they have come to understand that mum and dad are still around even if they cannot see them at that precise moment in time. However, it takes a couple more years for their confidence to build about being alone.

Parents will recognize separation anxiety in their child if the child quickly drifts back to sleep once the parent has calmed their fears. It is not uncommon for some parents to experience separation anxiety from their child. This can be recognised by the parent looking in on the child frequently throughout the night.

Resistance to Sleep

Sometimes children have a resistance to what is known as ‘sleep settling’. Basically, this means a child who for one reason or another does not want to go to bed and demonstrates this by throwing a tantrum complete with screaming and feet stamping, or consistently thinks of excuses for why he or she is not ready for bed just yet. This can also be seen in kids who simply say to their mothers, ‘I am not going to bed because I do not want to’.


Parasomnias are sleep related problems that interrupt proper sleep patterns and include such things as night terrors, nightmares, teeth grinding or bruxism and bed-wetting. If not kept in check, any one of these problems can develop into more serious concerns for both parent and child.

There are other reasons why children have disrupted sleep. Some are very simple and easy to remedy while others are more serious and would require a visit to their doctor.

Some children wake up during the night because they are wearing a pair of uncomfortable pajamas or wearing nightwear with tags that are irritating their skin. Others wake up because they are uncomfortable through bedwetting, being too hot or cold, thirsty, hungry or they have to use the toilet.

Other reasons include a noise that wakes the child, an allergy or food insensitivity, gastro-esophageal reflux (GER), a bladder infection causing pain and/or a constant need to urinate, allergens in the air and finally, pain from an earache, stomachache or teeth growing in.

Never discount any of these problems but address them as soon as they occur so they do not develop into something worse.