Kids, ACEs and Sleep Problems: What You Can Do

Kids, ACEs and Sleep Problems: What You Can Do

If you had a rough childhood, research suggests you are more likely to have nightmares and other sleep problems. Kids with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) may also be more likely to experience sleep disturbances, including bedwetting and trouble getting to sleep. This can do more than make them tired and cranky. Racking up an ongoing sleep “debt” is linked with other health problems, including obesity and even diabetes.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

What can you do if your child has a sleep disorder that won’t go away? Here are some tips:

Play outside every day. Start the bedtime routine long before kids actually go to bed, says Harvey Karp, MD, of the USC School of Medicine and author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. Plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise is the best recipe for a sound sleep, according to Karp.

Have kids turn off their electronics an hour or two before bedtime. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the blue light from these screens “can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin” and give children a case of mini-jet lag.

Create a relaxing sleep routine. This often involves a bath, bedtime story or reading aloud, and hugs before light’s out. Like family dinners, this can provide an important ritual that will help kids feel connected and secure.


Choose calm shows for preschoolers. A 2011 study in Pediatrics found that kids who watched violent TV during the day were more likely to have problems sleeping. And “violent,” in this study, included cartoons like SpongeBob Squarepants. A follow-up study found that substituting shows like Curious George or Sesame Street resulted in a better night’s sleep.

Set a regular bedtime. All kids need a good night’s sleep. Research shows this is essential for neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate. This sleep chart from the CDC can help you estimate of how many hours of sleep you and your child need. (Did you know preschoolers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, counting naps?)

Talk with your doctor. If the problem is something like sleep apnea, the problem may require medical treatment.


Kajeepeta, S., et al. Adverse Childhood Experiences Are Associated with Adult Sleep Disorders: A Systematic Review.  (2015, March). Sleep Medicine.

Garrison, M.M., Liekweg, K., and Christakis, D.A. (2011, June). Media use and child sleep: the impact of content, timing, and environment. Pediatrics 128(1):29–35.