In Physical & Mental Health

Sleep Disorders in Children

Sleep is crucial for a child’s healthy well being. Sleeping problems can have an effect on the child’s behavior, mental and physical health and other family members. Although there are situations when your child simply isn’t ready to go sleep, if the problem is persistent, it may be due to a sleeping disorder. There are several types of sleep disorders in children that may be interfering with the child’s ability to sleep soundly through the night.

|SEE ALSO: A Guide to Mood Disorders in Children|

Sleep Apnea in Children

One of the most common sleep disorders in children is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep problem in which the child may struggle to breathe and possibly stop breathing. There are a number of health problems that may cause sleep apnea in children, such an enlarged tonsil and adenoids, which obstruct the upper airway in the child. The sleep disturbances and complications associated with sleep apnea may include a decrease in oxygen to the brain and a strain on the right side of the heart. Some of the symptoms associated with sleep apnea in children may include:

  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Snoring, which is followed by gasping or pauses in breathing
  • Choking sounds
  • Labored breathing while asleep
  • Sleeping in unusual positions
  • Restless sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Behavioral problems and/or problems in school performance resulting from lack of sleep

If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. There are treatments available to help with sleep disorders children who are diagnosed with sleep apnea, including medications, surgery and/or monitoring devices.

Night Terrors

nightmares. However, nightmares typically occur in children during REM sleep, which occurs after children have been asleep for more than 4 hours. Night terrors occur in non-REM sleep, which is typically within the first four hours of the child’s sleep. The symptoms of the sleep disorder in children known as night terrors may include:

  • Screaming and/or shouting
  • Bolting upright in bed
  • Kicking and thrashing
  • Sweating, racing pulse and heavy breathing
  • Staring wide-eyed and blankly
  • Difficult to waken and confused if awakened
  • The child cannot be calmed down
  • The child will suddenly fall back asleep and not have any memory of the experience when he awakens the next morning


Narcolepsy is typically more common in adults. It is one of the rarer sleep disorders in children; however, it does occur. Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes overwhelming drowsiness during the daytime and suddenly falling asleep. Narcolepsy is one of the sleeping problems that has no cure. Some of the symptoms of narcolepsy may include:

  • Sudden loss of muscle tone
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Frightening and/or vivid hallucinations that occur during REM sleep
  • Excessive and an uncontrollable need to sleep during the daytime

Sleep Disorders in Children with ADHD

ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a common condition that typically begins in children as young as toddler age. A child with Common sleep problems in children with ADHD may include:

  • Initiation insomnia, which typically includes the child getting a burst of energy as the sun goes down and racing thoughts.
  • Restless sleep, which means the child is asleep, but they toss and turn and are easily awakened by any noise in the home.
  • Difficulty waking is a common sleeping problem for children with ADHD. When the child finally falls asleep, they fall into such a deep sleep that they are difficult to arouse.
  • Intrusive sleep is when the child loses interest in an activity and the nervous system disengages from the activity. The disengagement is so sudden that it induces a sudden and extreme form of drowsiness.

Other Sleeping Problems in Children

Some of the more uncommon types of sleep problems in children may include:

  • Sleep deprivation, which occurs when children do not get the appropriate amount of sound sleep.
  • Sleep walking occurs when the child gets up while still sleeping and walks through the house and in some situations may travel outside of the home. The child is not aware of their behavior.
  • Separation anxiety typically occurs in toddlers. The child becomes anxious and is unable to fall asleep or stay asleep without the parents or caregiver present.
  • Parasominas disrupt sleep, such as grinding teeth or a baby crying in sleep due to being uncomfortable, colic or teething.

How Much Sleep do Kids Need?

Children, like adults, need various amounts of sleep, depending on the age and needs of the child. There are a few guidelines for the amount of sleep children of various should have:

  • Infants and toddlers typically require about 15 hours of sleep each day. As the child ages from newborn to toddler, they do begin to sleep for longer periods of time through the night, however, as infants the sleep patterns are typically broken up with multiply short periods of sleep through the day and night.
  • Children aged 3 to 6 typically need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep each day.
  • Kids who are between 7 to 12 require 10-12 hours of sleep.
  • Preteens and teens require 8-9 hours of sleep each day.

Signs of a Lack of Sleep in Children

Children who are experiencing sleeping problems or a sleep disorder may display several signs that they need more sleep, including:

  • Consistently falling asleep while riding in the car (except infants)
  • Needing repetitive reminders and/or extreme stimulation in order to wake up in the morning.
  • Abnormal behavior problems, such as aggression, crankiness and excessive emotionalism
  • The continued need for a nap in the afternoon (children who are over the age of 8)

How to Help Children Get a Better Night’s Sleep

It is recommended that each night you follow the same bedtime routine with your child. Some of the ways to help children sleep better at night may include:

  • Make bedtime special-for example, create a calming experience by making this the quiet time for only you and your child. Spend a few minutes talking about the day’s experiences and/or read a bedtime story with/to the child.
  • Study the child’s nighttime behaviors-if you mentally take note of how your child behaves when they get sleepy, it will help you know when to start the bedtime routine and prevent the opportunity for your child to get his “second wind”.
  • Consistent bedtime routines-avoid physical and mental stimulation at bedtime, so no roughhousing or watching a mentally stimulating television show at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Calming atmosphere-the child’s bedroom should be a calm environment. Keep the lights dim, turn off the television and other electronics and close the door or leave it only slightly ajar.

If you suspect your child may be experiencing a sleep disorder, it is important to have the child examined by a pediatrician if the symptoms continue for longer than a month. Your child’s pediatrician will be able to provide you with detailed information about the best bedtime routine for your child and possible medical/herbal treatments, such as melatonin that may help your child sleep better.

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