Common Sleep Problems in Children

Last updated: December 2021
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The biggest difficulty is often that children can’t settle themselves to sleep at the start of the night. Some children need a parent in bed with them or rocked in a pushchair or even driving around in a car to be able to fall asleep. Once they come up through the sleep cycle to a point of a partial awakening and they find the conditions have changed they need attention. Teaching children to soothe themselves to sleep can be done gently and gradually.

Changes in Routine

When routine is changed it can impact on sleep issues. Christmas for example is a wonderful time of the year but in January many families are still struggling to get their children to sleep. Sticking to routine as much as possible is helpful and will ensure your child feels secure.

Feeling Hungry or Thirsty

Adding in a supper time can help with the hunger pangs at night. If a child is thirsty then offer them water. Diet is important and what is consumed during the day can impact on sleep. It is best to avoid anything sugar loaded during the evening such as biscuits and cakes. Caffeine is a stimulant so tea, coffee, cola and even hot chocolate are best avoided in the run up to bedtime. Good choices are anything calcium based such as yoghurt, fromage frais or a glass of milk. Porridge is a great supper time snack or even a banana smoothie.


The bed needs to have a supportive mattress. This is particularly important for growing children. An unsupportive bed can result in aches and pains leading to problems in adulthood. According to BackCare, youngsters need a supportive bed as much as, if not more than an adult. Their research found that an increasing number of teens and even younger children are suffering back problems.

Some children may be uncomfortable due to medical conditions for example children with eczema may find it hard to get comfortable at night time. Youngsters who are unwell or teething may also have issues getting comfortable which will impact on their sleep.

Common colds can make children feel uncomfortable and disrupt sleep patterns. A child who has recently had a hospital admission may also find their sleep is disrupted. This can be due to discomfort but can also be caused by a change in environment.


Some children may genuinely be fearful of the dark. Stories normalising this fear can be helpful and there are lots of lovely ones available. Children may also want a parent with them during the night. Some children take comfort from having a parent’s T-shirt over their pillowcase so that they have their familiar scent close by. Where fear or anxiety is severe it may be necessary to seek advice from your GP to see if more specialist support is required.

Night Time Wetting

Bed wetting is common in children. The likelihood of it occurring decreases as a child gets older. Maintaining a consistent approach is useful and if your child does wet the bed try to change them in a dimly lit environment with as little interaction as possible. If you are concerned about bed wetting you can seek advice from your health visitor or school nurse.

Sensory Issues

Sometimes children have sensory issues that impact on their night time sleep. For example if your child is very noise sensitive during the day they are likely to be the same at night time. This means that the central heating clicking on for example could wake them very easily. Some find that white or pink noise or even music can help with this issue. Children need consistency so make sure the same conditions are used throughout the night. Likewise some children are very touch sensitive and do not want to be covered at night time. This can result in them becoming too cold and waking in the early hours as a result.