Counselling and therapy for sleep problems in children and teenagers

Sleep problems in children and teenagers

It is natural for children to have difficulties falling asleep or having disrupted sleep occasionally. However, if your child experiences persistent sleep problems leading to a lack of sleep and/or lack of sleep quality, it may be indicative of a sleep disorder.

A good nights sleep is crucial for good mental health and healthy development in children and adolescents. However, sleep problems are very common in young children, with nearly 50% of children having a sleep problem at some point in their childhood. Sleep problems include not wanting to go to bed or be left alone, difficulties in falling asleep, frequently waking up through the night, waking early in the morning, or a combination of these. Lack of sufficient and good quality sleep can negatively affect your child’s performance in school, their engagement in extracurricular activities, their ability to maintain good social relations and their ability to regulate their emotions.

If you have observed your child experiencing long-lasting sleep problems, clinical psychology therapy can help. Effective therapies such as CBT, sleep hygiene and other behavioural therapies used by highly experienced clinicians, are available within our clinic in the North West London area.

Sleep problems

How do I know if my child or teenager has a sleep disorder?

The most common symptoms of OCD in children and teenagers are obsessive, unpleasant thoughts, compulsive behaviours and high levels of anxiety.

Bed wetting (enuresis)

Bed wetting typically occurs in children aged 2-4 years, but it could occur in older children too. It stems from improper bladder control at night. Causes of bed wetting may include:

  • Insufficient development of the child’s bladder
  • Constipation which puts pressure on the bladder
  • Response to stress, exhaustion, or minor illness
  • Overproduction of urine at night by child’s bladder

Note that it is developmentally normal and not uncommon for children between 2-4 years to occasionally wet the bed. However, if it does not feel appropriate for your child’s age or if it is causing significant distress to the child and your family, it is recommended to seek help.

Bedtime fears and sleep anxiety

Bedtime fears and sleep anxiety tend to start around age 2, and may last until age 8 or 9. Some older children may experience this too. These commonly look like:

  • The child’s fear of going to bed at night
  • Fear of sleeping in the dark
  • Fear of monsters or other imaginary creatures in their room or under the bed
  • Fear of being kidnapped or burgled

It is important to understand your child’s fears without dismissing or ridiculing them, whilst ensuring you do not support the build-up of their worries. Worries at night are often an indicator of other stress your child is feeling during the day.

Night terrors

Night terrors may occur in children aged between 3-8 years, and include episodes of screaming, shouting, and thrashing around in bed with panic. These episodes occur when the child is not fully awake, and hence they don’t tend to recall their occurrence in the morning. Causes include:

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • New medication
  • Change in sleep environment

Children generally tend to outgrow their night terrors, but if this is not the case or if these episodes are occurring very frequently, it is advised to seek help.


Insomnia can start at any time from childhood to adolescence and is characterised by the child or teen’s inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. This leads to non-restorative sleep which disrupts normal functioning. Causes of insomnia may include stress, side effects of some medication, caffeine intake, or underlying medical issues. Symptoms may be:

  • Bedtime refusal or struggle going to bed
  • Resistance to a sleep schedule
  • Napping
  • Trouble waking up in the morning
  • Excessive tiredness during the day

Insomnia may stop when the underlying cause is resolved. However, if insomnia is occurring more than three times a week for many months, it is good to seek professional help.


Hypersomnia usually occurs in late adolescence, although a small percentage of children may experience it too. It is characterised by excessive daytime sleepiness along with normal or longer durations of night sleep. Common symptoms include:

  • Excessive drowsiness during the day
  • Frequent napping
  • Feeling tired even after napping and sufficient night sleep
  • Difficulty waking up

It is essential to seek help if hypersomnia and its symptoms are significantly distressing your child or teen and disrupting their usual functioning.

How can I help my child or teenager with sleep problems?

If you have noticed the above symptoms in your child, we recommend you get in touch to book a free telephone consultation.

As a parent, it can be distressing to watch your child or teenager struggle with sleep problems. The good news is there are evidence-based, modern, and effective counselling and therapy methods for sleep disorders available in North West London with Harwood Child Psychology.

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Our approach of using only rigorously tested and NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) approved treatments dramatically increases the chance of seeing real improvements in your child. At Harwood Child Psychology we offer cost-effective, evidence-based treatment with a highly-qualified clinical psychologist. You can be sure that your child or teenager is in safe hands.

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We pride ourselves on a high quality, warm and compassionate service that can help your son or daughter overcome their sleep disorder. We conduct gold-standard treatments recommended for sleep difficulties such as psychotherapy (counselling) talking therapies and behavioural interventions. Alongside full therapy, we provide parenting support and behavioural management for the child to help them understand their worries and learn the necessary techniques to help them gain control of their sleep problems.

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Harwood Child Psychology provides engaging and effective therapy for sleep problems in Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Highgate, Hampstead, Finchley and the wider North West London area.

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