Sleep Problems in Children

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Sleep problems are very common during the first few years of life. Problems may include waking up during the night, not wanting to go to sleep, nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting. If frantic upset persists with no apparent cause, call your child's doctor.

All children differ in how much sleep they need, how long it takes them to fall asleep, and how easily they wake up. Read on for more information from the American Academy of Pediatrics on how parents can help their children develop good sleep habits, even at an early age.


Babies do not have regular sleep cycles until about 6 months of age. While newborns sleep about 16 to 17 hours per day, they may only sleep 1 or 2 hours at a time. As babies get older, they need less sleep. However, different babies have different sleep needs. It is normal for a 6-month-old to wake up during the night but go back to sleep after a few minutes.

Here are some suggestions that may help your baby (and you) sleep better at night.

Toddlers and preschoolers

Many parents find their toddler's bedtime to be the hardest part of the day. Children this age often resist going to sleep, especially if they have older siblings who are still awake. Use the following tips to help your toddler develop good sleep habits:

Safe Sleep and Your Baby

Many infants die during sleep from unsafe sleep environments. Some of these deaths are from entrapment, suffocation, and strangulation. Some infants die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is the sudden, unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year. However, the following are ways for parents to keep their sleeping baby safe.

Note: These recommendations are for healthy babies up to 1 year of age. A very small number of babies with certain medical conditions may need to be placed to sleep on their stomachs. Your baby's doctor can tell you what is best for your baby.

Common sleep problems

There are many things that can cause a child to wake up during the night. Most of these happen when children are overtired or under stress. Keeping your child on a regular sleep schedule may help prevent many of these problems. If your child's sleep problems persist or get worse, talk with your child's doctor.


Nightmares are scary dreams that often happen during the second half of the night when dreaming is most intense. Children may wake up crying or feeling afraid and may have trouble falling back to sleep.

What you can do

Night terrors

Night terrors occur most often in toddlers and preschoolers and take place during the deepest stages of sleep. Deepest sleep is usually early in the night, often before parents' bedtime. During a night terror, your child might

While night terrors can last as long as 45 minutes, most are much shorter. Most children fall right back to sleep after a night terror because they actually have not been awake. Unlike a nightmare, a child will not remember a night terror.

What you can do

Remember, after a short time your child will probably relax and sleep quietly again. If your child has night terrors, be sure to tell babysitters what they are and what to do. If night terrors persist, talk with your child's doctor.

Sleepwalking and sleep talking

Like night terrors, sleepwalking and sleep talking happen when a child is in a deep sleep. While sleepwalking, your child may have a blank, staring face. She may not respond to others and may be very difficult to wake up. Most sleepwalkers return to bed on their own and do not remember getting out of bed. Sleepwalking tends to run in families. It can even occur several times in one night among older children and teens.

What you can do


Bedwetting (also called enuresis) at night is very common among young children. Although all of the causes of bedwetting are not fully understood, the following are some that are possible:

What you can do

Bedwetting usually disappears as children get older. If you are concerned about your child's bedwetting, talk with your child's doctor. There are treatments available.

Teeth grinding

It is common for children to grind their teeth during the night. Though it makes an unpleasant sound, teeth grinding is usually not harmful to your child's teeth, but you may want to check with your child's dentist to make sure. It may be related to tension and anxiety and usually goes away in a short while. However, it may reappear when your child is stressed.

What you can do

Keep a sleep diary

If you are concerned about your child's sleep habits, talk with your child's doctor. Keep a sleep diary to help track your child's problem that includes the following:

Track this information for 1 to 2 weeks and bring it with you when you talk with your child's doctor. Keep in mind that sleep problems are very common, and with time and help from your child's doctor, you and your child will overcome them.