What Causes Insomnia in Teenagers and Children and How to Help

Parents prepare themselves to deal with sleep issues with their new baby, but most of us don’t realize that there are all kinds of sleeping problems that older children and even teens can experience. Insomnia is one of those sleep issues that can cause significant behavior and mood problems for the child during the day. If left untreated, insomnia can cause behavior issues as well as physical problems for children. If your child can’t fall asleep or insomnia is a problem at your house, read on to find out how you can help.

Symptoms of insomnia

Insomnia is basically an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, so if you notice a sleep disturbance, that’s the number one symptom. Other symptoms of insomnia in teenagers or children can include the following:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Problems at school
  • Attention span or memory problems
  • Depression
  • Sluggish or hyperactive behavior
  • Having accidents or poor body control

What causes insomnia?

Do you know what causes your child to experience insomnia? Many parents are not aware that there are many environmental things that are helping cause their child’s insomnia. Some of these things could easily be changed or fixed to help prevent insomnia, although some of them are serious and will require medical intervention. Here’s a short list of some of what causes insomnia in children:

  • An inappropriate bedtime. Most children require at least 10-11 hours of sleep at night. Teenagers need at least 9 hours. If their bedtime is too late in the evening, it can cause sleeplessness.
  • Poor sleeping habits. A TV in the bedroom, too much light in the room, or other habits that prevent good sleep can contribute to insomnia.
  • Stress. Worry and stress during the day can influence sleep quality.
  • Caffeine. Even a small amount of caffeine for a child can keep them up at night, so watch soda and chocolate intake.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome. RLS can cause itching, burning, tingling, and movement in the limbs. This can, of course, be an obstruction to sleep.
  • Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person to stop breathing temporarily, which disrupts sleep and can play a part in insomnia.
  • Psychological issues. Depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions can cause sleep problems.
  • Development disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD can contribute to sleep issues.
  • Pain. Whether it’s a one-time pain such as from a stomach ache or more constant, such as from arthritis, growing pains, or fibromyalgia, children can be kept awake because of something that hurts.

What causes insomnia in teenagers? Teens are very similar to smaller children. They need a lot of sleep and the causes can be the same, although stress and late bedtimes are often the culprit more often than for small children. Teens can be affected by the exact same causes that affect children, however.

What to do about insomnia

Of course you want to help your child experience a healthy amount of sleep. You want your child to feel refreshed and happy in the morning, not to mention that you don’t want to have to deal with a cranky child! Here are some tips for helping your child avoid insomnia:

  • First off, set a regular and appropriate bedtime that ensures an adequate amount of sleep for the child.
  • Avoid beverages that contain caffeine. Even a small amount can affect a child’s sleep.
  • Set the stage in your child’s bedroom to promote healthy sleep habits. Remove TVs, computers, or other electronics, make sure the room will be dark at night, and set up a good bedtime routine.
  • Ensure your child gets plenty of exercise during the day (but not late in the evening).
  • If you suspect a medical problem, seek the help of a qualified physician who can help you deal with the underlying issues.
  • Melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs in the body to regulate sleep. Your doctor may recommend a daily dose of an over-the-counter supplement.
  • Sleeping pills may be used temporarily, but as they can be habit forming, most professionals do not recommend this as a permanent solution.

Natural remedies for insomnia in children

Cartoon Child with InsomniaThere are many simple and natural remedies for insomnia in children. Natural remedies are great because you don’t have to use medications or other invasive methods on your young child. Here are a few you can try out. Like most remedies, you may find that some of them work for you and some don’t. Just take the ones you can use and discard the rest.
Drinking a glass of warm milk at bedtime has long been known as a good way to fall asleep quickly. Adding a half teaspoonful of cardamom may make the treatment more effective. You can find cardamom in the spice aisle of your grocery store if you don’t already have some at home. This is one of the easiest home remedies for insomnia in children.

Aromatherapy is another good way to help with relaxation and sleep. Both lavender oil and chamomile oil promote calm and relaxation. You can use these oils in bed linen sprays, dip a cotton ball in the oil and then place it near the bed at night. Taking a bath using one of these essential oils is also a great way to prepare for sleep.

There are many things that can be done to help with your child’s insomnia. While treatment should start with a doctor who can rule out or treat anything serious that may be contributing to the insomnia, parents can also help the child by making small changes to the bedtime routine. There are many natural remedies for insomnia that can also help the situation. If your child is dealing with insomnia, take heart. It’s very likely you can work with the child to improve their quality of sleep.

About Holli Ronquillo

I'm a freelance writer, mom, wife, and sleep connoisseur (not necessarily in that order). When I'm not sleeping or chasing a toddler around, I'm usually writing or reading.