Kids’ Sleep Struggles, and How to Spot Them

A few weeks ago, we shared some ideas on how to help your child get to sleep. But for some parents, before they can take those extra steps to help their kids, they have to be able to recognize their kids’ sleep struggles. And sometimes, that’s not nearly as simple as you may think.

For example — your child may struggle to focus on assigned tasks, or get easily distracted. They can have trouble remembering things or following instructions — or, they may even seem unaware you’re speaking to them at all. Today, we recognize these symptoms as telltale signs your child may have ADHD. But recently, researchers released a study that explores the idea that ADHD isn’t so much a learning disorder as a sleep disorder.

In this study, researchers found that many ADHD patients diagnosed with ADHD may also suffer from an imbalance in their circadian rhythm — suggesting that at least some patients may find improvement by improving their sleep vs. taking medicine for ADHD. Of course, we’re not saying a lack of sleep is the underlying cause for all ADHD patients. But, with that in mind, it’s really important to recognize sleep struggles in your children — and make sure you’re doing what you can to help them.

Here are a few signs your child is dealing with more than just a few bad nights here or there.


It’s always a bit perplexing when your child hasn’t slept but ends up hyperactive. But when your child isn’t sleeping well, cortisol and adrenaline kick into high gear — and that can cause a lot more uncontrolled energy, from fidgeting to being unable to sit still.

Stuck in bed.

We all love staying in bed in the morning. Well, most of us (the two of you out there who just can’t wait to do whatever daily chores you have, well, good for you). But when you have to wake and rewake and basically rent a crane to pry your child out of bed, there’s a good chance she’s not sleeping well at night.

Lack of attention or interest.

From being unmotivated to simply disinterested, your child’s display of alertness and energy related to activities at school or home is something worth paying attention to. Especially if your child enjoys these tasks but still isn’t interested.

Difficulty concentrating.

Sometimes it’s not just disinterest — it’s a focus problem. From being unable to stay on task to forgetting steps in simple instructions, to blanking on what they just read, children who aren’t sleeping well will often struggle to stay focused and retain information.


This one makes a little more sense than hyperactivity. But, when the adrenaline isn’t pumping, drowsiness can catch up to your kids really quickly.

Disturbed sleep.

From night terrors to sleepwalking, lack of sleep and the stress it causes can take a toll on your child’s sleeping brain. If your child wakes regularly from bad dreams or if you notice your child is sleepwalking, it’s time to really focus on making bedtime safe, comfortable, and soothing.

Trouble falling asleep.

It may seem normal: kids don’t want to go to bed, they want to stay up and play or fear missing out on whatever show you’re binge-watching. But getting up over and over again at bedtime or complaining about lack of sleep may be more than just kids being kids. Try to pay a little more attention to those nighttime struggles, and see if you can find a pattern in the sleepless nights and other sleep-deprivation symptoms during the day.

Separation anxiety.

We’ve all thrown a nasty fit when we didn’t get enough sleep. (Go on, admit it.) Especially in toddlers and preschoolers, young kids feel all sorts of magnified emotions when they’re not well-rested. They can be more clingy than normal, and feel even greater anxiety when you’re dropping them off at daycare or preschool. If they’re still napping, be sure to lock down both the napping and bedtime routines as much as possible to help them get back on track.

What to do about it all?

Let’s not sound the alarms just yet. There’s a good chance whatever sleep struggles your child has are far from the point of needing a doctor. If you’re trying to correct those struggles, start with techniques like we shared here to help you coax your child into healthy sleep patterns, and we recommend trying those ideas out. But if nothing seems to help, it may be worth visiting a doctor, or going a level deeper into solving the problems. Because once your child sleeps well, the rest of their life — and by extension, yours — will feel a whole lot better.