Sleep Disorders in Children: What Every Parent Should Know

Lack of good sleep is not an adult problem; sleep disorders in children affect two-thirds of all kids in America who experience one or more sleep problems at least a few nights in a week. This is according to National Sleep Foundation’s 2004 Sleep in America Poll. In a study involving 2,463 children aged between 6 and 15, it was revealed that children with sleep problems were more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and display oppositional behaviors.

What are the most common sleep disorders in children? 

–          Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that describes hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and/or impulsivity and is linked with a host of sleep disorders in children. There is evidence that children with ADHD have higher rates of daytime sleepiness; 50% of children showed signs of sleep disordered breathing and restless legs syndrome. While sleep deprivation is common with American children, poor sleep have a deep impact on ADHD symptoms.

–           Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the common sleep disorders in children, affecting 1 to 3% of otherwise healthy preschool-age children. Symptoms of this disorder include snoring, labored breathing, restless sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness as well as associated behavioral problems. The usual treatments recommended are: adenotonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids) or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

–          Central apnea, a condition that happens when the brain does not send breathing signals is seen commonly in premature infants while the respiratory center in the brain still immature.

–          Night terror is another type of sleep disorder which is similar to nightmares but the only difference between the two is that a child who has experienced night terrors is inconsolable, no matter how hard the parent tries. Though witnessing a child going through a night terror can be alarming, the condition normally does not demand any immediate medical attention since it does not denote the presence of any serious underlying medical issue. Night terrors typically happen during the non-REM stage of sleep (occurring about 2 or 3 hours after the child falls asleep). Unlike nightmares, children normally do not have any memories of night terrors. Caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system, night terrors are usually present in children who are over-tired, have been put on a new medication, sleeping in a new environment. This sleep problem is seen mostly in children during 4 and 12 years of age, but they are known to affect children of 18-months also.

What are the other sleep disorders in children that parents should know about? 

There are several other types of sleep disorders that affect kids. They are:

–          Waking up frequently in the night.

–          Sleep talking

–          Problems in falling asleep

–          Waking up crying

–          Sleepiness during the day

–          Bed wetting

–          Teeth grinding or clenching at night

–          Early waking

Most of the sleep problems in kids are caused by poor sleep habits or anxiety related to going to bed and falling asleep. However, when the problems remain persistent, the child could be suffering from emotional problems. ‘Separation anxiety’ is a particularly anxious moment for the child when every night he or she has to separate from the parents at bed time.

Maintaining a strict bed time schedule and sleep routines help most children to overcome sleep problems. Feeding and rocking infants to sleep can be comforting as well as reassuring for the baby.

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