Did you know that childhood sleep problems are really common? It is thought that about 40% of primary school kids have an issue of some sort (1), and the rates are higher in early childhood.

It makes sense that sleep and a child’s mental health and wellbeing go hand-in-hand. In fact, insufficient and broken sleep has been associated with numerous issues, such as: increased behavioural, social-emotional and academic problems; trouble starting primary school; ADHD-like symptoms (ie concentration, attention, and impulse-control difficulties); and even depression.

Associate Professor Harriet Hiscock, paediatrician and researcher with the Centre for Community Child Health at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, says that behavioural sleep problems make up the bulk of issues seen in kids. Chances are you’ve already experienced some of them at your place. For example, she says children may:

  • want to co-sleep with adults

  • use stalling techniques (‘just five more minutes’, wanting a drink etc)

  • refuse to go to bed (engaging in long conversations, tears or tantrums)

  • get out of bed frequently (for a drink, the toilet, to talk)

  • wake often

  • have difficulties getting to and returning to sleep (eg lying awake worrying)

  • experience anxiety-related insomnia (more common in primary-age children)

  • have nightmares or night terrors.

According to Associate Professor Hiscock, there are many possibilities for why sleep issues are so wide-spread.

“There’s most likely better recognition and help-seeking for sleep problems so more kids are coming to health professionals,” she says. “There’s definitely an increased use of mobile devices and computers in the bedroom that can cause difficulties quieting down, and which reduce the brain's production of melatonin that helps us go to sleep. Kids are also doing more in their day, so time to sleep is probably not prioritised.”

It’s really important to put a good night’s sleep at the top of the to-do list. When your child is sleeping well, chances are you will be too, which means the whole family will be at their very best, mentally and physically.

To help you on your way, read our articles Dealing with bedtime worries and nightmares and Sleep strategies for the whole family.

1. Owens JA, Spirito A, McGuinn M, & Nobile C. ‘Sleep habits and sleep disturbance in elementary school-aged children.’ J. Dev. Behav. Pediatr. 2000; 21: 27–36.