Sleep disorders in children aged 2 years and older

Already at the age of 1-2 years, children may have difficulty falling asleep or waking up often during the night. Sleep disorders affect one in four children under the age of 5: the causes can be physiological, from the first nightmares to weaning, or linked to a range of fears that arise during growth.

In cooperation with

Dr. Massimo Luca Castellazzi

surgeon specialist in pediatrics

Sleeping well is a fundamental aspect of ensuring that children grow up in health and theirs Cognitive development happens correctly, but especially if you are a new mom or new dad you will know that I sleep disorders they are a fairly common experience in this maturation process, and which can occur as early as the age of 1 or 2 years.

That children’s sleep can be disturbed by various causes and factors that can range from a state of excitement due to an eventful day to fear of the dark or the first. Nightmares that the child begins to do around 2-3 yearsperhaps due to a feeling of anxiety related to one’s consciousness that is gradually increasing.

Of course, good sleep is just as important for children as it is for parents who need to know it how to intervene to cope with the little ones’ difficulty sleeping and help them overcome them.

Sleep disorders in children

Sleep disorders in children

THAT sleep disorders occurs very often during childhood growth: do you think that according to data reported by the Italian Society of Pediatricians (SIP) they affect every fourth child under 5 years and 10-12% of children in the range of 6 years to adolescence.

Infants up to 3 months are actually able to sleep for 5 hours in a row, but then enter a phase that can last the first years of life, characterized by frequent awakenings during the night and resistance or difficulty falling asleep. , disorders that they are often related to the experiences that children go through during their development or the emotions they feel about a character on autonomy who become more and more and to the development of the relationship with their parents.

Sleep disorders due to afraid of the dark or at the first nightmares they are physiological at the age of 3 years and represent a signal of the child’s mental development.

With increasing age, however, habits that promote poor sleep hygiene, such as recurrences exposure to artificial light o Prolonged use of electronic equipment, especially before you fall asleep, can cause sleep problems or even direct insomnia, which can last into adolescence and beyond.

Babies can struggle to fall asleep for several causessome related to their growth, such as the former Nightmares or the teeth.


As I told you, children’s sleep can be disturbed due to some normal stages of their growth, but also due to various fears, such as abandonment or separation from parents, which prevent the child from letting go in a peaceful way without the fear. of being deprived by waking up the girlfriend stuff, a basic aspect of being able to sleep well.

Between causes and the factors that can make babies sleepless are:

  • Teeth: from approx. 6 months up to 2 years in milk teeth and the pain is felt more at night, which interferes with the baby’s sleep.
  • Resistance to going to bed: children want to become independent and become more and more independent even though they are so young. However, dealing with sleep and detachment from parents makes bedtime a little difficult. It’s up to mom and dad help your baby fall asleep serene, perhaps singing him a lullaby, establishing a sleep ritual, accompanying him with a favorite toy, or giving him a goodnight kiss.
  • Frequent nocturnal awakenings: if the nocturnal awakenings in the first months of life are normal and are due to the little ones quickly going in and out of the REM phase (the phase where one dreams), often going from light to heavy sleep, about 9 months also addsseparation anxiety and fear of strangers, two aspects that can cause nocturnal awakenings. Even a change in one’s habits, the phase of weaning or the start of kindergarten, or the mother’s return to work, can lead to waking up at night and fragmenting sleep.
  • Sleep disorders in breathing: in some cases, some conditions that interfere with proper breathing may also interrupt the baby’s sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea, which may cause repeated awakenings.

Nightmares and Pavor nocturnus

They deserve the chapters separated NightmaresThat means fearful or disturbing dreams, which occurs from the age of 2 years in 30% of children in the REM phase and can cause nocturnal awakenings. The child cries, calls for help and its awakening is associated with a rapid return of alertness, even though the dream can then be stored in the child’s memories as a very intense experience. Nightmares can represent attempts to treat a disturbing event, especially if they recur every night and if they continue over time, but also an expiration for a period of particular stress or change.

This category also includes a slightly different experience from the nightmare, called Pavor nocturnus, or night terror. These episodes happen for the most part between 3 and 8 years below non-REM sleep phase and they consist in a state of only partial wakefulness on the part of the child, who, however, does not seem to notice the presence of other people around him and begins to scream, tumble and fight even violently with an accelerated heartbeat and breathing. However, children who experience night terrors fall asleep after a few minutes as if nothing had happened, and when they wake up, they remember little or nothing of what happened. While the scene can be very impressive for parents to watch, it is not recommended to wake children to avoid making them even more frightening.

What to do

Although sleep disorders are quite common in children, it is role of parents it is extremely important both to ensure that the little one feels safe and protected before “giving himself up” to the transition between wakefulness and sleep, and to cope with his emotionality And attention which changes along the various stages of its growth. To do this, it is necessary to provide some regularity to children’s routines, which must always be changed with great care, as well as to establish and enforce a number of good habits that help you fall asleephow:

  • Set a bedtime that the child must respect each night
  • Separate the evening feeding phase from the falling asleep phase
  • Avoid having the child sleep repeatedly in different environments
  • Prohibit the use of tablets or other electronic tools before going to bed

Faced with the difficulty of falling asleep for their children, some parents may see a solution in co-sleeping, that is, welcoming the children into the bed of the mother and father, or in any case in the same room. If one can alleviate some of the child’s fears in this way, it is likely to do so at the same time accustom the little one not to fall asleep alone, which makes subsequent lookups even more difficult. In short, the choice of allow children to sleep with their parents there are several advantages and disadvantages associated which need to be carefully considered according to the situation.

Expert opinion

We have heard the opinion on the subject Doctor Massimo Luca Castellazzipediatrician surgeon:

“Sleep disorders in children should not be underestimated as they can have consequences for everyday activities, not only for the child but also for the parents. Trying to deal with sleep disorders properly is therefore very important, for this reason, some simple rules can help us improve sleep quality. First of all, it is important to try it respect the time of falling asleep every night and always let the child sleep in the same environment, which should be as comfortable as possible (get light, silent or at most with soft background music). In this way, “rituals” are built around approaching sleep, which the child learns and wants to respect. The night is for sleeping, so try to separate the activities your child does during the day from those he does in the evening. Another useful tip is to Avoid using electronic tools after dinneras reduce the production of melatonin, which helps to fall asleep, and in any case make children more “agitated”. THAT dinner they should be light and children should not be offered beverages containing thein, caffeine or chocolate after noon. 16, because it is exciting drugs. If the child wakes up in the middle of the night, try not to rush to pick it up, try to calm it down and give in first and foremost to the temptation to take him to bed. Also from here the road passes to reachthe child’s autonomy“.

Sources | Italian Society of Pediatrics; Infant Jesus Hospital

(Published by Gaia Cortese on 11-12-2018
Modified by Alessandro Bai on 7/18/2022)

The information on is designed for
integrate, not replacethe relationship between a patient and their physician.

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