How common is insomnia in children?

Around 15 to 25 percent of children have difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (Galewitz, 2008)

Types Of Insomnia In Kids

Sleep specialists usually separate child insomnia into several different categories, based upon the likely culprit of a child’s sleeplessness:

Sleep-onset-association insomnia

This is usually seen in children 5 and under, and occurs when children wake in the middle of the night and have difficulty falling back asleep. Kids tend to naturally wake ten or twelve times a night but will usually fall right back asleep without ever remembering having awoke.

Limit-setting insomnia

Just as it sounds, this involves children who habitually postpone bedtime and struggle with the transition to sleep, and is more common in older children. They might repeatedly get out of bed, ask for drinks of water over and over again, complain about monsters, or otherwise create excuses not to sleep. When parents accommodate these pleas, it tends to reinforce the behavior, making the situation even worse.

Insomnia diagnosis in kids

Insomnia is typically considered significant when it takes a person more than 30 minutes to fall asleep on 3 or more nights a week for at least 3 months. But when it comes to diagnosing insomnia in kids, most pediatric sleep experts use the looser criteria of focusing on whether these sleep difficulties are causing problems during the day, either for the child or his or her parents.

What to do if your child has insomnia

Insomnia is a symptom that can sometimes be related to another problem, so parents should consult their pediatrician. It may be a result of simple anxiety or it could be related to a medical condition such as reflux or sleep apnea. After your doctor has ruled out these other causes, you may choose to turn to a consultation with a sleep expert.

Sleep studies typically aren’t necessary for kids who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. In these cases, there tend to be behavioral reasons that cause the problem, such as caffeine use, TV watching before bed or other issues such as anxiety. (More detailed information on dealing with insomnia can be found in our family sleep handbook.)

Why it’s important to deal with a child’s insomnia

It’s important to address insomnia problems as soon as possible, because the more nights of disrupted sleep a child experiences, the more this pattern becomes ingrained in his sleep habits. Bouts of sleeplessness that last more than 3 or 4 weeks become more difficult to outgrow, since they condition a child towards sleeplessness.