Counting Sheep

What to do when your kid experiences insomnia.

The subject of sleep is quite complex, as is the topic of sleep disturbances. However, there are simple interventions that can likely help children suffering from this medical condition.

The first rule of treating insomnia is preventing it from getting worse. From your viewpoint, a child who awakes in the middle of the night and is weeping is ultimately crying out for help. However, in many instances, that is not the case. Nighttime awakenings are normal and usually happen in the middle of the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. Shedding tears is simply a response to the confusion of displaced reality.

To manage the crying associate with awakenings, I recommend two techniques. The first is to simply ignore the crying child. This works quite well in families willing to tolerate a night or two of histrionics as the child adjusts to the new routine. The second is to wake up the child approximately an hour before the usual expected spontaneous awakening. Then, let him go back to sleep immediately. If the waking is brief and does not coincide with REM sleep, it disturbs the sleep architecture just enough to inhibit the habitual spontaneous awakening.

Five tips to help your child sleep more soundly.

By Kayla Mossien

  1. Make the bedroom more desirable. Get kids excited about bedtime by decorating their room’s with kid-friendly furniture, bedding or decor. The plush framing of Incredibed’s charismatic characters make kids eager to call it a night. Order at www.incredibeds.com.
  2. Think outside the box. The Holistic Baby Sleep System DVD is a non-invasive acupressure system for babies and toddlers. It optimizes their circadian rhythms to help them sleep better. Available at www.holisticbabysleepsystem.com.
  3. Try aromatherapy to relax the little ones. Aroma Home’s Knitted Hotties are equipped with wheat inserts that are microwavable and release a calming blend of lavender and chamomile. See the full collection at www.aromahome.com.
  4. Use technology. The ZAZOO Photo Clock, available at www.zazookids.com, is for children who have difficulty sleeping through the night or rise too early. It visually shows kids when it’s time to start the day or when to hit the hay. Features include a calendar, a rotating digital photo frame, music and audio book capabilities.
  5. Check out audiobook programs. Sleep psychologist Dr. Tom Jackson’s DreamChild Adventures in Relaxation and Sleep successfully helps with insomnia, anxiety and other sleep disorders in children. His book and audio program offer entertaining and spellbinding adventures that place children into the story. It immerses readers into hyper-realistic settings and playfully guides them toward more restful nights. To buy, log onto www.3daudiomagic.com.

With sleep onset insomnia, sleep hygiene— the removal of stimulation from the child’s routine for one or more hours preceding, as well as during, sleep time— is the first line of treatment.

Melatonin at bedtime also appears to be a safe and effective method of regulating sleep onset timing when sleep hygiene is not enough.

Your doctor can help in cases when these interventions do not, as the insomnia may be due to many factors, from hormonal and medication side effects, to psychological and neurologic conditions. Be sure to speak with your physician for additional insomnia treatments.