Before you can get a good night’s sleep, you have to fall asleep. And for some kids, falling asleep is a hard thing to do.
When we fall asleep, we enter Stage 1 Non-REM sleep. This is the doorway between sleep and waking. Our heartbeat and breathing slow, our eye movements slow down, our muscles relax, our brainwaves slow, and we drift into the next, deeper stage of sleep.
Except when we don’t.
Any interruption in the slowing and relaxing process can rocket us back to “I’m Awake!” Then we have to start falling asleep again. So what are some reasons that your kid might have trouble falling asleep?
#1 – Anxiety can affect the brain and the heart.
When a person is anxious and ruminating on their worries, their brain and heart are affected and remain in an aroused state. They literally can't fall asleep because their whole body is being held on "high alert." Your child may need to talk to a doctor or therapist for treatment. For many children, calming music, white noise, or meditation can help calm their minds and hearts. You don't even need a special machine—there are apps for this, or you can use a household device like an Amazon Echo or Google Nest to play the sounds for a set time or give a guided sleep meditation.
#2 – Allergies can make it hard to breathe.
For many children, night time is allergy time. If your child has a dust allergy, the bed can be a place where good breathing doesn't happen. Try to use dust covers on pillows and mattresses, wash bedding on hot once a week, and run a HEPA filter. If possible, replace the carpet with hardwood. Good breathing is essential to good sleep, and your sleep space needs to promote allergen-free breaths.
#3 – Could your child have restless leg syndrome (RLS)?
A child with restless leg syndrome may have a difficult time letting their muscles relax in Stage 1 sleep. People with RLS will often feel an unbearable urge to move when they have to be still for long periods. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there’s no cure for RLS. However, you can help your child by giving them more time to fall asleep, allowing them to get up and move vigorously and then encouraging them to try to fall asleep again, and checking for underlying causes like low iron.
Falling asleep at night is the first step to a good night’s rest. By trouble-shooting what may be keeping your child from falling asleep, you can get them more hours of rest and help them live a happier life. If you’re concerned about your children’s sleep habits and want to find out if there are underlying causes, talk to your PCP or dentist about a sleep screening and appropriate treatments.