Regardless of whether you’re a new parent or a seasoned veteran, instilling good sleeping habits in the kids is always a battle – one that’s won or lost every single night. The truth of the matter is that people rarely sleep continuously through the night; parents and children alike. The deciding factor, rather, is not how long your children sleep, but their ability to fall back to sleep on their own.
Here’s a look at 6 common causes your child keeps waking up at night:
1. Nightmares & Night Terrors
We all have nightmares, even as adults. For children, nightmares can manifest as a response to emotional stress in their waking lives, or simply childlike fears of imaginary threats. While nightmares are normal, they should not go dismissed if you want your child to get any regular rest. Listen openly to determine if there’s any emotional distress that your child is experiencing in their waking life, and make sure that they feel safe in their sleeping quarters.
Night terrors, however, are distinct from nightmares in both nature and physical consequences. While nightmares occur during REM sleep, night terrors present themselves during the transition between stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, usually after approximately 90 minutes of asleep. Night terrors are certainly traumatizing for the child, but can be similarly distressing to witness as a parent: episodes are characterized by intense fear during sleep, expressed through fits of crying or screaming, with difficulty waking the child. This can be accompanied by increased heart rate, intensified breathing, and anxious sweating.
A child experiencing a night terror may appear to be awake but is unresponsive to stimuli, and may react violently to his/her perceived fear. Episodes typically last under five minutes, but up to half an hour can pass before your child is calm enough to return to sleep. Most children are unable to recall the source of the fear, or even the incidence of a night terror having taken place the next morning.
Up to 6% of children between the ages 3-12 experience night terrors, with the peak onset at age 3 and a half. Night terrors tend to run in families, but have the potential to be triggered by fever, stress, medication, sleep deprivation, or recent anesthesia. The condition can generally be diagnosed by your doctor with just a medical history and physical exam, but other tests may be ordered if another disorder is suspected.
Breathing difficulties may be responsible for keeping your child from falling and staying asleep. Children with asthma may experience coughing, wheezing, or breathlessness throughout the night that impairs their ability to sleep soundly. If their symptoms worsen at night, they may even be suffering from nocturnal asthma.
Doctors already speculate that the worsening and waning of asthma symptoms throughout the day is affected by our circadian rhythm, as symptoms tend to be at their worst during the early morning hours for most patients. If you suspect that breathing difficulties are impeding your child’s ability to sleep, schedule a consultation with a sleep specialist.
3. Acid Reflux
Acid reflux, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), is a common ailment which plagues young children. In children with acid reflux, the stomach acid comes up into the esophagus and is the reason why most infants “spit up” so often. In infants, the condition usually resolves on its own by the age of one, requiring no medical treatment. However, when reflux persists into childhood, it can cause stomach pain and discomfort which make it difficult to sleep. Simple remedies to aid with reflux include not eating at least an hour before bed, and raising the pillows so that the neck is angled higher than the stomach.
4. Full or Irritable Bladders
If your child is at the potty-training stage, or even a bed wetter, a full or irritated bladder could be interrupting his or her sleep. Make sure that your child makes a bathroom trip before bedtime, and practices good bathroom habits throughout the day.
Primary bedwetting, where your child has not yet learned to control his or her bladder, is common and will eventually be fixed through effective potty training or even a nighttime diaper. Secondary bedwetting, however, occurs after your child has already been successfully potty trained, and could indicate an underlying medical condition or intense emotional trauma.
5. Sleep Onset Association Disorder
Again, night waking is common for children, especially toddlers; the issue is your child’s ability to get back to sleep through their own will. With sleep onset association disorder, the child has come to associate certain conditions or objects with security, and cannot self-soothe himself or herself back to sleep without them. The solution lies in gradually training your child to sleep on their own, through establishing good sleep hygiene and reassuring them that they’re safe without actively indulging their demands.
6. Environmental Factors
Of course, the answer to your child’s night waking could simply be environmental factors. If there is too much household commotion continuing outside their room, or tempting toys and electronics are within reach, your child will become too restless or distracted to stay asleep. Locate your child away from the hub of the household if possible, limit light pollution, keep distracting toys in a separate play room, and make the bedroom as safe and cozy as possible for your child to sleep soundly through the night.
Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Shukla
If your child is struggling to stay asleep through the night and you’re struggling to resolve the issue on your own, be sure to schedule a consultation with pediatric sleep specialist Dr. Mayank Shukla at the Asthma Allergy Sleep Center of New York today.