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Sleep problems in children

Sleep problems is very common during the first few years of life. This ranges from nightmares and terrors, to sleepwalking, to bed wetting.


Babies do not have regular sleep cycles until about six months of age. It is normal for a 6-month old to wake up during the night but go back to sleep after a few minutes. A few suggestions that may help baby (and you) sleep better at night are:

  • Keep your baby calm and quiet when changing or feeding her during the night.
  • Make daytime play time to help lengthen her awake time.
  • Put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake so she learns to fall asleep on her own and in her own bed.
  • Wait a few minutes before responding to your child’s fussing; see if she can fall back to sleep on her own.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Children often resist going to sleep, especially if they have older siblings who are still awake. Tips to help your toddler develop good sleep habits are:

  • Set up a quiet routine before bed, such as reading him a story, listening to quiet music, or taking a bath.
  • Be consistent.
  • Allow your child to take a favorite thing to bed each night.
  • Do not let your child sleep in the same bed with you.
  • Do not return to your child’s room every time he complains or calls out.
  • Reassure your child that you are there for them.

Common sleep problems

There are different things that can cause your child to wake in the middle of the night, many of which are caused by being over tired of under stress. If your child’s sleep problems persist or get worse, talk with your pediatrician.

  • Nightmares.  Children may wake up crying or feel afraid and may have trouble falling back to sleep.

What you can do:

    • Go to your child as quickly as possible.
    • Assure her that you are there and will not let anything harm her.
    • Encourage her to tell you what happened in the dream and remind her that dreams are not real.
    • Allow her to keep a light on if it makes her feel better.
    • Once your child is ready, encourage her to go back to sleep.
    • See if there is something that is scaring your child, like shadows. If so, make sure they are gone.
  • Night terrors. Night terrors can last up to 45 minutes, most are much shorter and most children fall right back to sleep. Unlike nightmares though, a child will not remember a night terror. If night terrors persist, talk with your pediatrician.

Your child may:

  • Cry uncontrollably.
  • Sweat, shake, or breathe fast.
  • Have a terrified, confused, or glassy-eyed look.
  • Thrash around, scream, kick, or stare.
  • Not recognize you.
  • Try to push you away.

What you can do:

    • Stay calm. Night terrors are more frightening for the parents then it is for the child.
    • Do not try to wake your child.
    • Make sure your child cannot hurt himself. If he tries to get out of bed, gently restrain him.
    • Be sure to tell the baby sitters what night terrors are and what to do.
  • Bedwetting (also called Enuresis). Bedwetting is very common among young children. Bedwetting normally disappears as the children get older. If you are concerned about the bedwetting, talk with your pediatrician.

What you can do:

    • Do not blame or punish your child for wetting the bed.
    • Avoid giving your child fluids just before bedtime and have them use the toilet before going to bed.
    • Put a rubber or plastic cover over the mattress to protect against wetness and odors.
    • Encourage your child to help change the wet sheets so that they learn how to do it on their own.
    • Set a no-teasing rule in the family.
  • Teeth grinding. It is common for children to grind their teeth during the night and is usually related to tension and anxiety. This is usually not harmful to your child’s teeth and usually goes away in a short while.

What you can do:

  • Try to help your child deal with stress.
  • Talk to your dentist or pediatric dentist to make sure the grinding is not harming your child’s teeth.


Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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