Insomnia in Children

  • Set bedtime to obtain the usual amount of sleep. Set bedtime so that your child gets his or her usual amount of sleep – the typical 9 to 11 hours per night depending on your child’s age. (Children between the ages of 6 and 12 need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night; teens need about 9 hours of sleep each night.)
  • Get up out of bed instead of tossing and turning. It is better for your child to get up and engage in a very calm activity in relatively low light for 15-20 minutes (eg reading), rather than stay in bed and toss and turn if he or she can’t sleep. After staying out of bed for 20-30 minutes or so, they may return and attempt to sleep. If after a 15-20 minute attempt there is no success, they should get up again and try the relaxing activity again. Repeat the cycle as necessary.
  • Consider behavioral therapy. Specialists in behavioral and cognitive therapy are sometimes needed to work with the child and family to help using psychological methods without drugs. These methods are very helpful and generally better for the child in the long term. Your sleep specialist is a good source for more information in this regard.

A word on medications: Medications are usually not recommended for children and adolescents with insomnia and are used only in very special circumstances. It is much more important to look for any underlying medical or psychological problems that may need to be treated first. Another issue with insomnia medications and sleeping pills and aids is that many have not been approved by the FDA for use in children. It is important to work closely with your doctor regarding medication issues, and this includes over-the-counter drugs, supplements (eg, melatonin), and herbal products you might be considering giving your child.

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