You’ve probably already noticed that in the case of lack of sleep, your child doesn’t react in the same way as an adult: far from dozing off, little ones tend, on the contrary, to react by being hyperactive. A child who has not slept well likely has difficulty focusing their attention, is irritable, and very agitated.
In the short term, this primarily affects their cognitive development. Sleep-deprived children often show a delay in learning, for example, by starting to speak later. Secondly, a sleep-deprived child tends to have more difficulty managing his or her emotions, which complicates the learning of social relationships. Epidemiological studies also show health consequences: the immune system is less effective in children suffering from sleep disorders, and the risk of childhood obesity is higher.
Lack of sleep can thus have an impact on health, but also on learning abilities and on the behavioral, social, and emotional development of a child. The risks are even higher for children with disabilities.
Identify the causes of sleep disorders to better treat them
Insomnia can be caused by a variety of factors. Stress is a common cause, for example. It can be a recurring anxiety – like fear of separation at bedtime – or a one-time cause: a change in the family (birth of another child, death of one of the grandparents) or in the people caring for your child. Often, a better sleep environment and small adjustments can make a big difference:
Scheduled meals and bedtimes;
Properly soundproofed room;
Temperature at 19° ;
Comfortable bedding, including a child’s comforter adapted to the season and a good pillow;
A soothing bedtime ritual.
If difficulties persist, a behavioral approach is recommended to help your child fall asleep peacefully.
Some medications can cause insomnia: if so, it is essential to discuss this with your doctor. However, in children with disabilities, insomnia can often have a medical cause.
A common cause of insomnia in children with disabilities is discomfort. This is especially the case when they cannot move freely at all times, so care must be taken to regularly relieve pressure points. The risk is all the more pronounced if your child has a hearing aid. It is therefore important to take the time to examine your child, paying particular attention to pressure points.
Another common cause of insomnia in children is circadian rhythm disorders. This is a difficulty in adjusting to the alternation of day and night. This can quickly lead to a complete mismatch, so early intervention is needed. You may need to adjust your child’s sleep schedule purposefully over time. For the youngest children, many avoid encouraging napping beyond 16h00 to ensure that the child will be sleepy enough at bedtime. It is also wise to help your child to differentiate between day and night by alternating phases of stimulating activities during the day, by exposing them to sunlight as much as possible, and focusing on more calm activities to help them “wind down” in the evening. Bedtime rituals like soothing books and lavender-scented comfort items can help create a “bedtime” atmosphere as well.
Finally, it should be noted that the quality of your child’s diet influences the quality of their sleep. A diet that is as balanced as possible is very beneficial for good sleep. Avoiding foods that may cause an upset stomach at dinner is a good policy as well, as a child dealing with indigestion or needing to use the bathroom won’t sleep soundly.
If your child often wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, you may also want to skip a glass of water next to the bed in favor of hydrating earlier, as excessive drinking just before bed will certainly lead to a full bladder before morning.
Be careful not to underestimate physical discomfort!
A child is not always able to express precisely that he is in pain, whether it’s due to lack of vocabulary or understanding or even embarrassment. Diarrhea, ear infections, teething… these are all examples of relatively minor maladies that can be easily overlooked and can dramatically affect your child’s quality and quantity of sleep. In case of insomnia, it is important to systematically check that your child does not have a fever, and that he/she does not suffer from ailments requiring immediate medical attention.
Even the best parents often underestimate the importance of sleep for growing children, but chronically not getting enough rest will have negative impacts on your child over time. Ensuring that your child is getting enough sleep is a vital step towards strong physical development, good performance in school, and great mental health. In addition, your child will thank you for helping them develop healthy sleep habits at a young age as they’ll continue to reward them through their entire lives.