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Sleep Problems in Children: Care Instructions


Many parents worry about their children's sleep. There is no "right" amount of sleep for children, because each child's needs are different. But some children have sleep problems that keep them, and often their families, from getting the sleep they need. Some sleep problems go away on their own, and others may need medical care.

Sleep problems affect children in different ways. When a child has night terrors, usually everyone in the house knows it. The child screams during sleep. And then when they're awake, the child doesn't remember crying or what caused it. Some children get out of bed during the night and start walking, even though they are sound asleep. Some children wet the bed while sleeping. Some children regularly stop breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or longer (sleep apnea).

Your doctor will work with you to find out what is causing your child's sleep problem. Sometimes tests or sleep studies are needed. For many children, getting regular exercise, eating well, and having a good bedtime routine relieves sleep problems. If you try these changes and your child still has problems, the doctor may prescribe medicine or suggest other treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Set up a bedtime routine to help your child get ready for bed and sleep. For example, read together, cuddle, and listen to soft music for 15 to 30 minutes before turning out the lights. Do things in the same order each night so your child knows what to expect.
    • Have your child go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep your child's bedroom quiet, dark or dimly lit, and cool.
    • Limit activities that stimulate your child, such as playing and watching television, in the hours closer to bedtime.
    • Limit eating and drinking near bedtime.
  • If your child wakes up and calls for you in the middle of the night, make your response the same each time. Offer quick comfort, but then leave the room.
  • Avoid reading scary stories and watching scary programs that might cause your child to worry. Stress may cause nightmares.
  • Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
  • Don't try to wake your child during a night terror. Instead, reassure and hold your child to prevent injury.
  • If your child sleepwalks, keep the windows and doors locked during sleep time.
  • If you think your child is overweight, talk to your doctor. Being overweight can cause sleep problems or make them worse.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child continues to have sleep problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.