Childhood sleep issues are common. There are various types of sleep disorders that affect children, some of which are behavioral in nature and some of which result in abnormal findings on a sleep study. Sleep disorders in children can be difficult to diagnose due to the variations in sleep habits among children at different stages of development; what may be abnormal for an older child may be typical for a younger child.
Additionally, sleep disorders in children may be hard to define because others may tolerate sleep behaviors that may be troublesome to some parents. Sleep disorders that are behavioral in nature are far more common than those that can be identified on a sleep study.
[Related: Managing Toddler Sleeping Problems]
What qualifies as a normal sleep pattern for children, especially infants, is quite different from that of adults. Sleep is broken down into two stages:
As we sleep, our sleeping cycles go through the two stages. As we grow and mature, the percentage of time spent in each stage and the intervals in which the stages change varies. Infants, for example, conduct nearly half of their sleep in the REM stage, whereas adults spend only about 20 percent of sleep in that stage. Additionally, young infants are typically asleep longer than they are awake. Periods of wakefulness begin to become greater as a child ages. Typically, a child will get an average of 10 hours of sleep per night.
[Related: The Five Stages Of Sleep]
There are many types of sleep disorders in children. Some may be behavioral in nature and others can be due to an immaturity within the central nervous system during childhood. Some may be outgrown as the child matures and others, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, can be present throughout adulthood. Types of sleep disorders include:
Children with sleeping disorders will most likely experience sleepiness during the day. Symptoms include:
Typically, a pediatrician will diagnose your child’s sleep disorder, but you may also be referred to a sleep specialist and need to undergo a sleep study. A sleep study will likely be used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. Parents may also find it helpful to speak with the child’s teacher or school counselor if behavioral or attention problems are present at school. Both doctors and school personnel will likely need the following information to make a diagnosis and begin an intervention:
Each type of sleep disorder has its own specific treatment. However, many disorders may benefit from a consistent bedtime routine. Others need specific intervention, which includes:
When a sleep disorder is present in childhood, not only is the child irritable and tired, but also the whole family gets affected. If you suspect that your child has a sleep disorder, it is important to bring the symptoms to the attention of your pediatrician. From there, your pediatrician may recommend that your child see a specialist. Your doctor will likely attempt to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your child’s sleep disturbance. Seeking the help and support of your doctor can get your family on the road to normal sleep once again.
Some sleep disorders are mild and easily treated, while others are far less common and may require medical intervention. If your child has a sleep disorder, he or she may be experiencing a problem at school that you may not have realized is a result of his or her sleep disturbance. Often times, difficulty with attentiveness and behavioral problems in school are attributed to sleep disturbance. Sleep disorders in children can have the following side effects:
Sleep disorders in children are common. Many of them can be treated easily and are often outgrown as the child matures. However, some if left untreated can develop and continue into adulthood and have log-term effects. If you suspect your child has a sleep disorder, contact your family doctor or pediatrician to have the child’s symptoms evaluated.