Children, babies and sleep

We look at some common causes and solutions to a child's sleepless nights.
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  • Updated:9 Jul 2008

04.Insomnia in teenagers and sleep hygiene

Insomnia in teenagers

Teens need more sleep than adults. Sleep problems in teenagers can often be caused by poor sleep hygiene — see our tips for ways of correcting poor sleep habits.

Another common problem for teenagers is known as sleep onset delay. Teenagers tend to go to bed late but need to get up early for school, sporting activities and the like. It’s not clear if this tendency to stay up is due to a developmental stage of the body clock or a result of lifestyle (most probably both).

Even if they do have an early night they may not be able to sleep, as their body clocks are set to go to sleep at a late hour. As a consequence they may end up feeling permanently jetlagged. It’s a serious issue, as sleepiness can affect grades and behaviour, and may even increase car accidents among adolescents. In some US states they’ve changed the starting hours of high school to help address the problem of sleep deprivation among teens.

This teenage sleep problem can be treated with a behavioural therapy known as sleep restriction. This works by their going to bed late when they’re sleepy, and then over a few weeks going to bed earlier (about 15 minutes at a time every three or four nights). Eventually their body clock is reset and their morning sleepiness goes away.

Exposure to bright light (preferably natural light) on awakening also helps to reset the body clock. Limiting the amount of exposure to evening light may also help

Sleep hygiene

Lack of sleep in children can result in crankiness, irritability and even inattention, hyperactivity and learning problems in some children. The following sleep hygiene tips were provided by Dr Jim Papadopoulos, thoracic (sleep) paediatrician at St George Private Hospital, Sydney:

  • Their bedroom should be quiet, dark and not too hot or cold.
  • Use the bed for sleeping only — no TV, video games, computer or reading in bed. (You can read them bedtime stories while they sit in a chair next to the bed.)
  • It’s best if the TV, computer games and internet access are out of the bedroom altogether (this applies particularly to teenagers).
  • Try to have mealtimes around the same time each day, and avoid caffeine — cola and energy drinks, coffee, tea and chocolate — particularly after 4 pm. Don’t give them a big meal or too much liquid close to bedtime.
  • If your child is having sleeping problems it’s best they get up at the same time each morning, even on weekends. As soon as they wake they should get out of bed and go into the brightest room in the house. This helps to set their body clock. Sunlight is better than artificial light.
  • Exercise during the day is great, but don’t let them do anything too active for at least two hours before bed.
  • Children shouldn’t nap after 3 pm.

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