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Trouble sleeping? Sleep Disorders in Foster Children

If you are a new foster parent, you may have trouble sleeping. This is because you are either excited about the new child, worried about the child, or stressed about future scenarios that have not come to pass. Sleeping disorders in foster children cause problems for the children and their foster parents.

As a foster care parent, you realize that many foster children have trouble sleeping too. I know that I have trouble sleeping in a strange place. I have trouble sleeping when I'm stressed or excited about a situation. Sleep disorders in foster children range from insomnia to sleep apnea (Sleep Apnea information can be found here: Sleep disorders in foster children can aggravate issues like ADHD, depression, anxiety. These issues can also be a signal of the problem. What can I do for sleep issues in my foster child?

Sleeping solutions for children in foster care

This is the third of a series of three posts on sleep. My first post was from Megan Tucker, RN, BSN of Baby Basics of Atlanta. You can find her post at My next post was from several experts, veteran foster moms who gave real advice on their experiences with foster children who had trouble sleeping. That post can be found here

So.... What is normal sleep?

First, what is the amount of sleep for children in a 24 hour period? Is there a normal amount of sleep foster children need? Foster children need the regular amount of sleep as other children or a bit more just because they stress easily.

How many hours of sleep should my foster child get? and other solutions...

How many hours of sleep is my foster child supposed to get? Here is a general idea:

  • Less than 12 months = 12-16 hours

  • 1-2 years old = 11-14 hours

  • 3-5 years = 10-13 hours

  • 6-12 years = up to 12 hours

  • over 12 years = 8-10 hours

If foster children have trouble sleeping, it can lead to a drop in IQ, can lead to obesity, and will decrease their athletic performance. Sleep is very important to academics as well as performance in sporting events or activities. Many times foster children are behind educationally and need good sleep to be more successful. Therefore, we must give them comfortable sleep settings to promote excellent sleep. Consequently, it is very important for their overall health.

Problems with Sleep

Insomnia can be a signal of ADHD, depression, or anxiety. When you are stressed, do you lie awake thinking of every possible negative scenario? I do. It is the same with foster children. They have so much to worry about.

Hyperactivity, as in ADHD, can cause insomnia. If the child has ADHD, it is difficult to calm down long enough to fall asleep. These children toss and turn, get up, walk around, move around, and play instead of lying still. If they don't lie still, it is near impossible to actually go to sleep.

If you feel your child suffers from laziness throughout the day or at certain parts of the day, it could be is a sleep-related energy issue. Don't think it is on purpose. Try to get the child additional sleep if they are feeling or acting lazy.

Snoring is an issue for foster parents to investigate. Sleep apnea is an issue that would require a medical evaluation. Often a sleep study should be completed by a sleep specialist. Sleep apnea can cause brain fog, tiredness the next day, and a lack of energy to wake up. Positioning the child on their side for sleeping can assist with the snoring issue.

Sleeping more than normal, or less than normal needs to be evaluated by a medical doctor as well as psychological testing. If the child is depressed, sleeping too much may be a sign. I've heard of growth spurts in children and experienced them with my infants. If your child has a growth spurt, he or she sleeps extra hours and eats more food than 'normal'.

Sleeping solutions for children in foster care


When your child is scared of the dark, both of you can play a game of "hide and seek" in the daytime with the lights off in the room. This will allow the child to explore the room with little light to know that there is nothing to be afraid of. During scary times, give them a flashlight. Utilize a nightlight with a timer and a sound machine. Use a sound machine with a clock that shows daytime and nighttime. Here is a link to a few sound machines:

While it is not a disorder, nightmares and night terrors may be a significant issue for your child due to issues of trauma, memories, and fears. Limit horror, mystery, and some drama from television shows, electronics, books, etc. Discuss any fears and reality of any shows or games that have horror when they see something frightening or have in the past. Another suggestion - pray before bed if your child is open to that. Let them know they can talk to you about anything that is scary.

Tip: You can have a mattress under your bed to pull out when needed to let the child sleep near you. This may not be agency-approved (or prohibited) but at least you will get some sleep.

What sleep diagnosis has your foster child had? How did you deal with it?

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Impressing Minds is about creating value in the mind of a child through the foster parents. Imagine the mind of a child being made of play-doh, and you are about to make a permanent impression. What type of impression will you make? I will encourage you to make a soft, lasting, affirmative impression in their mind by giving tools to get started fostering, accomplishing a great foster care home, and serving the children in your care. I offer support to you and others fostering. An important element of Impressing Minds is the support that others have given to those in need.


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