Insomnia In Children: Symptoms, Causes And Treatments

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✅ This article has been medically reviewed by: Dr. Amita Fotedar, Ph.D., Dr. Kate Sołdaj, M.D. and Dr. Bartłomiej Orybkiewicz, M.D.

Did you know that as much as 12% of all children struggle with sleep problems every night? Insomnia in children is not something new, nor rare. Your child may be struggling to fall asleep. The question is – Can you notice the signs? Insomnia is a serious sleep problem that threatens your child’s physical and mental health, as well as every other aspect of their lives. Here is what you, as a parent, can do about it.

What Is Insomnia In Children?

Insomnia represents a common sleep disturbance that causes the individual to stay awake at night or struggle to go to sleep. Children, too, often struggle with insomnia. Insomnia can greatly affect both the physical and mental health of your child. Due to insomnia, they will no longer get the restorative sleep that they need and instead will battle daytime sleepiness, among other symptoms. 

Your child may experience short-term or long-term insomnia. Short-term insomnia typically lasts a few days to weeks. For a case to be classified as long-term insomnia, its symptoms need to be present for 3 days a week for one month or longer. Usually, long-term insomnia is caused by more serious causes. However, this does not make short-term insomnia any less serious. Both short-term and long-term insomnia require proper treatment. 

How much sleep do kids need and how it links to insomnia?

Every child is different. That said, it is hard to pinpoint an accurate amount of sleep for each kid. Researchers show recommended sleep time from infancy up to adolescence in the attached chart below. 

insomnia in children

How can you tell if your kids are getting enough sleep they need? Unlike teenagers or adults, infants and toddlers are unable to probably express their reactions towards sleep problems. Parents, however, may count on significant signs to figure out the matter. If your kid commonly wakes up in the middle of the night or struggles to settle down, it can be a big insomnia red flag.

Insomnia Causes And Symptoms In Children

Toddlers not sleeping at night can be quite exhausting for both you and your children. It is your obligation as a parent to get to the root of the problem and find out what is keeping your child up at night. This, however, is neither an easy nor a simple thing to do. The truth is that there are quite a few different causes of insomnia in children. Here are the most common ones.

Causes Of Insomnia In Children

  • Caffeine

If your child is experiencing insomnia, this may be a good time to question the quality of their diet. Ask yourself how often do you see your child drinking soda. You see, soda is just one of the many drinks that have caffeine hidden within them. Oftentimes, we are unaware that we are giving our children caffeine by simply allowing them to have a glass of soda with their lunch. 

Maybe it is time to rethink your decision about allowing soda in the house. Introduce your child to the importance of drinking enough water. Prepare homemade fruit infused water, fruit juices, smoothies, and herbal teas to help them soothe their thirst. And while we are talking about sodas, do remember to limit any fluid intake around 4 hours before their bedtime. This will help prevent waking up during the night and disturbing their sleep.

  • An underlying health issue

Many underlying health issues may be preventing your child from getting a good night’s sleep. A good example would be itchy skin caused due to eczema. Fibromyalgia, muscle cramps, heartburn, and growing pains can all be quite painful, thus disturbing their sleep. 

Mental retardation, Asperger’s syndrome, and autism, too, can be the cause of insomnia. Even something as harmless as having a stuffy nose due to allergies can reduce your child’s sleep quality. Please do consult a pediatrician if you believe that your child is dealing with any underlying health issue whatsoever.

  • Another sleep disorder

Have you ever thought about the possibility of insomnia to be caused by another sleep disorder? Restless leg syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea are the two most common sleep disorders that can lead to insomnia in children. Obstructive sleep apnea is a common issue among adults as well. It causes the breathing to involuntary stop during sleep, thus leading to loud snoring and frequent waking up at night. 

Restless leg syndrome is a condition that is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. This urge is caused due to an uncomfortable sensation that can only be temporarily eased by moving. This syndrome usually takes place in the evening and is enhanced during laying down and sitting. Knowing that both of these conditions can easily interfere with your child’s sleep. 

  • Use of medications

Over the years, certain medications have been listed as potential causes of insomnia in children. The list includes antidepressants, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and medications used to treat ADHD. If your child is taking any of these medications and shows signs of insomnia, do consult the pediatrician and discuss the possibility of prescribing a different medication. 

  • Stress

While we often mention stress to be one of the main insomnia causes in adults, it is not uncommon for children to battle with stress as well. Stress, too, can influence a child’s sleep. You may think that your child does not notice you and your partner fighting when in fact children are more sensitive than we would like to think. They often have their own worries too. It is important to take the time and talk to your child. It is up to us, as parents, to take care of both the physical and mental health of your children. 

Symptoms Of Insomnia In Children

The symptoms of insomnia in children are not so different from the ones that, we as adults, tend to experience. The most obvious sign of insomnia would be daytime sleepiness. Maybe you have gotten a call from the school, telling you that your child has repeatedly fallen asleep in class. This should be your first clue that something is not right with your child. 

You may notice as your child is tense or worried when sending it to bed. They often wake up early in the morning or stay awake late at night. Children also tend to experience mood swings and irritability. They may fall behind at school and even have disciplinary issues, both at school and at home. Children with insomnia can be quite aggressive and hyperactive. Their memory and focus will be affected too. 

Insomnia In Children – Effects

While insomnia has a poor influence on everyone’s health, it seems to be especially dangerous towards the health of our children. Toddler’s insomnia seems to be the most worrying of them all. The younger the child is, the bigger the physical and mental consequences due to insomnia are. In addition, those who battle insomnia at their young age tend to also struggle with it later in life. Prolonged insomnia can lead to depression and anxiety during the teen years. Battling with insomnia, fatigue, and poor cognition can decrease their performance at school. Their mood swings and irritability can have a negative impact on their social relationships with their friends and siblings. So, you see, prolonged insomnia can go far and affect multiple aspects of your child’s life. That is why it is highly important to do whatever you can to help them get a good night’s sleep.

Treatment For Insomnia In Children

So, now the most important question is – what can you do to help with a toddler’s insomnia? The good news is that there are many options that one can explore. There are both non-medical and medical treatment options available. Of course, this is not something that one can decide on their own. It is very important to consult your child’s pediatrician before trying any of these treatment options.

Non-Medical Treatment

  • Sleep hygiene

It is important to teach your child about the importance of having good sleep hygiene. Start by restricting the time spent in bed to sleep. Reading, doing homework, or watching TV are not activities that your child should be doing while laying in bed. Having a good sleep schedule that allows 8-10 hours of sleep is a must as well. Having a relaxing bedtime routine can help your child relax and fall asleep faster. As a general rule, restrict any stimulating activities for at least one hour before bedtime.

  • Essential oils

Essential oils are a great way to help your child relax. There are two ways in which you can use aromatherapy. You can either massage your child with essential oils before bedtime or instruct them on how to properly inhale the essential oils to help them relax. According to science, the best essential oils for insomnia are lavender, cedarwood, and Roman chamomile, among others.

  • Comfortable sleep environment

Having a comfortable sleep environment can significantly improve your child’s sleep quality. Make sure that their bedroom is comfortable and quiet during the night. Keep the temperature below 75 degrees F to prevent your child from getting too hot and waking up as a result. It is also important to keep the room dark. However, many children tend to feel afraid of the dark. In such a case, a soothing night light may come in handy. 

Medical Treatment

  • Medications

With children, doctors usually like to exhaust all of the available non-medical treatment options, before they turn to the medical ones, such as medications. There are many prescription and over-the-counter medications for insomnia, however, very few of them are suitable for children. The more preferred option is to use herbal products and supplements, such as melatonin, to induce a good night’s sleep. 

  • Cognitive behavior therapy

If you are worried about the potential side-effects of the insomnia medications, then you may want to give cognitive-behavior therapy a try. In fact, research shows that cognitive behavior therapy maybe even more effective than insomnia medications. During a session of cognitive-behavior therapy, your child will learn all about effective techniques that help fight insomnia. They will work with a specialized psychotherapist. However, this is usually an option for older children. 

Insomnia In Children – Prevention

The good news about insomnia in children is that it can be easily prevented. To prevent your child from struggling with insomnia, simply implement the common treatment techniques that we discussed before. Create a good sleeping environment, a healthy sleep schedule, and use essential oils if needed. Take care of your child’s mental health and work on any issues that may prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep. 


  • Why can’t my child sleep at night?

There are many reasons why your child has difficulty falling asleep at night. Perhaps your child is struggling with some build-up stress and anxiety. Maybe, it is the high caffeine intake that is preventing it from getting a good night’s sleep. Or maybe there is a more serious health issue such as eczema, thyroid issues, or heartburn that keeps your child up at night. This is something that needs to be discussed with your child’s primary pediatrician. Together, you can find out what it is that is causing your child insomnia.

  • How can I help my child with insomnia?

There are many ways in which you can help your child get a good night’s sleep. Creating a sleep schedule, a comfortable sleep environment, and introducing sleep-inducing herbal remedies are some great options. You may also want to look into the use of cognitive behavior therapy for your child as well. Please remember that a pediatrician is the only one that can determine the best course of treatment for your child.

  • Is insomnia a symptom of ADHD?

Insomnia can be a potential symptom of ADHD. As studies show, up to 75% of the children with ADHD struggle with sleep-onset insomnia. A child with ADHD finds it harder to fall asleep at night and has a shorter than normal sleep duration. Insomnia, however, is rarely the first sign of ADHD. If you are worried that your child has either insomnia or ADHD, do consult a medical professional.


Is your child waking up earlier than usual? Does it struggle to fall asleep at night? Maybe their teacher has said that they have fallen asleep a couple of times in class. What does all of this mean? Does it remind you of yourself when you were battling insomnia? Believe it or not but children too struggle with insomnia. It is, in fact, a growing problem that we, as parents, need to do something about it. We hope that our suggestions have helped your child to finally get a restful sleep. 

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