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What Is Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood?

Difficulties Sleeping May Be Linked to Parents' Behavior


Updated February 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood?
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There may be many reasons why your child has difficulty sleeping at night, but two common causes are classified under a condition called behavioral insomnia of childhood.

Insomnia refers to any difficulty falling or staying asleep, as well as sleep that simply is not refreshing. Children may suffer from insomnia for various reasons, including difficulties related to their sleep environment or poor sleep habits. Parents may unwittingly contribute to their child's insomnia by affecting their behavior in two ways:

These conditions both result in insomnia, but for distinct reasons. In the first condition, the sleep-onset association type, soothing behaviors by the parent may disrupt a child's ability to fall asleep when the parent is not present. In the limit-setting type, parents may lose control of their child's behavior around bedtime and during awakenings from sleep.

When either of these behavioral problems occurs, the sleep of parents may be greatly impacted as well. It often leads to significant distress within families, but thankfully the difficulties are readily addressed with simple changes related to each condition.


Durmer, JS and Chervin, RD. "Pediatric sleep medicine." Continuum. Neurol 2007;13(3):162.

Mindell, JA and Owens, JA. "A clinical guide to pediatric sleep: diagnosis and management of sleep problems." Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2003.

Spruyt, K et al. "Odds, prevalence and predictors of sleep problems in school-age normal children." J Sleep Res. 2005;14(2):163-176.

Touchette, E et al. "Factors associated with fragmented sleep at night across early childhood." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(3):242-249.

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