Can babies get insomnia?

According to a 2001 paper in American Family Physician, the publication of the American Academy of Family Physicians, sleep disorders in children are similar to sleep disorders in adults – including insomnia.

Insomnia as a diagnosis 

Insomnia is a lack of sleep that can present itself as difficulty falling asleep, fragmented sleep, or early waking. Babies don’t have the vocabulary or context to understand what they’re experiencing if they’re dealing with insomnia, so insomnia symptoms in babies are generally first noticed by parents. Insomnia is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means it’s only diagnosed when no other cause can be found. However, colic is also a diagnosis of exclusion, so often, infants receive this diagnosis instead.

An infant’s sleep cycle can be unpredictable by nature, so it’s pretty rare for an insomnia diagnosis in the early months.

How can I improve my infant or toddler’s sleep? 

If your little one is having so much trouble sleeping that you suspect there might be an underlying cause, their healthcare provider may be able to point you in the direction of a solution. Conditions like reflux, food allergies or intolerances, or ear infections aren’t always obvious, but can cause a lot of discomfort and interfere with sleep.

If a healthcare provider has ruled out all other possibilities, you may be able to help improve your baby’s sleep using some of the same techniques recommended for adults with insomnia.

  • Reduce distractions: If your baby is just a light sleeper, light and noise might be getting in the way of their sleep. Installing light-blocking curtains, closing the door, and even setting up a white noise machine all might help contribute to a better sleep environment for Baby.
  • Set the stage: All new parents are told to develop a bedtime routine. It is helpful to have a bedtime routine with dim lighting, a low noise level, and low energy activities like reading a book to help their body start to switch gears and slowly wind down for sleep.
  • Reduce stress: It might be hard to even figure out what a baby might be stressed about, but if they are working on a new skill like potty training, stress could be interfering with their sleep.

  • D. Blum, et al. “Insomnia and cow’s milk allergy in infants.” Pediatrics.76(6):880-4. Web. December 1985.
  • C. Carolyn Thiedke. “Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems in Childhood.” American Family Physician. 63(2):277-285. Web. January 15 2001.
  • “Insomnia in Children.” Cleveland Clinic Children’s. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 1995-2013. Web.
  • “Pediatric Sleep Disorders.” Stanford Health Care. Stanford Medicine. Web.
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