9 common sleep disorders in children & what you can do about them
Last Updated on
One of the most pressing problems that most families face nowadays is sleeping problems in children. Often children face problems like bedwetting, insomnia, snoring, waking up often during the night and even faking the sleep.
These disorders in sleep habits for children can be frustrating for the family. But we also need to understand that the child is also going through a terrible stage.
So, here are some common sleep issues and behavior problems in children as well as the treatment methods that you can try to cure the condition.
Understanding infant parasomnias
Parasomnias are sleep disorders such as sleepwalking, sleep eating, teeth grinding, night terrors, nightmares, rhythmic movement disorder, REM behaviour disorder, restless legs syndrome, and somniloquy or sleep-talking.
These sleep disorders are characterized by partial arousal during sleep or transitions between wakefulness and sleep. When they affect children they are known as pediatric parasomnias.
Parasomnias activate physiological systems at inappropriate times. This occurs during the sleep-wake cycle. In particular, these sleep disorders activates autonomic nervous system, motor system, or cognitive processes during sleep or sleep-wake transitions.
Symptoms of pediatric parasomnias
The signs of parasomnia differ from one disorder to the other. For instance, night terrors comprise fearful waking along with rapid heartbeat. Sometimes it also includes screaming.
But sleepwalking symptoms include wandering around while in a deep sleep.
However, nearly all pediatric parasomnia disorders have one thing in common; that is, an individual is asleep during the occurrence.
Children affected with parasomnia may sleep in unusual positions, or with their eyes open.
Some of the common symptoms in children are arched backs, heads thrown back or sleeping upside down are all common symptoms.
Parasomnias-affected child appears to be confused or afraid.
Usually the child never becomes completely awake. The child has no memory of the event in the next morning.
In almost all cases a parasomnia is not related to any sort of mental problem in children.
Sleep-talking is often reported in 50 per cent of young children; with most of them outgrowing it by puberty, although it may continue into adulthood.
Causes of sleep disorders in children
Just like symptoms the causes also vary depending on different conditions. External reasons include stress, depression or anxiety, whereas other parasomnias are genetic in nature.
To properly cure a parasomnia one must view the treatment based upon the actual present condition. If your child is over-tired or is taking some medication then it may worsen the condition.
In some cases, these disorders are due to other conditions, such as sleep apnea, heartburn, or periodic limb movement during sleep.
Although parasomnias are quite common and harmless, they can be an acute problem for some children.
Parents should consult a sleep specialist if a sleep problem disturbs their child to a great extent. It is important to keep in mind that parasomnias do not generally last for long, its presence is short. This reason makes its treatment conventional with regard to medicines and the like. Thus, the most frequently used treatment for this is improving sleeping habits.
The first common sleeping problem is pavor nocturnus or night terrors. This condition is very different from nightmares and the two should not be confused as the same thing.
In this condition which occurs approximately around 90 minutes after the child sleeps, the child suddenly gets up from his sleep and begins screaming. The child often becomes inconsolable for at least 30 minutes before you can make him relaxed, back to sleep.
What causes night terrors?
Many doctors believe that night terrors are accused by some kind of fatigue or stress. It can be also because of the pressure of studies that children nowadays get in their schools.
The best way to deal with this situation for parents is to device some kind of relaxing techniques. The child should have appropriate amount of rest as also some recreation time.
Also as a parent you need to keep your child in a good environment.
Does your child suffer from feelings of insecurity and sadness? Does he or she often cry in the middle of the night? Does your child tell you about bad dream stories?
If answer to all these questions is in affirmative, then be very careful. Your child may be suffering due to toddler nightmares.
For young babies, nightmares are enough to keep them from going back to sleep. They become too terrified of sleeping. This is a great trouble not only for children but also for parents.
Nightmares could be distressing for young minds too. They contain very important information about critical emotional challenges in the child’s life.
A child generally wakes up after a nightmare and feels distressed afterwards. Parents find it hard to comfort a child after a nightmare.
However, a child will not wake up by night terrors. Though child may keep his or her eyes open but will not be conscious enough to recognize or communicate. Waking up children afterward will confuse them.
After a night terror, children settle down easily. But this doesn’t happen after a nightmare.
Children who experience a nightmare become reluctant to go back to sleep. Often nightmares occur later in night, that is, during the light stages of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Children undergo night terrors generally earlier in night during deep non-REM or delta sleep.
What can parents do?
Both nightmares and night terrors are alarming for parents. You should be cautious in handling your child. You must to talk to your child about his or her fears.
Help your child to get away with any insecurity. When parents give their children reassurance and encouragement to look at imaginative solutions to dream dilemmas, their ability is restored to play with images in their nightmares. Then they may not feel threatened afterward.
Parents can do a lot in helping their child recover from sleeping disorder. For example, avoid watching aggressive or frightening television shows or movies, especially at night when children are around. Try not to quarrel in front of children, if possible. Parental fighting and abuse disturb children a lot.
Toddler nightmares are the cause of concern if the dreams persist and are recurring. In such a case it is advisable to consult a doctor.
Another common problem that children often face is Somnabulism and Somniloquy.
This condition is more common in school boys than school girls. Sleepwalking is very dangerous in the sense that the child can fall from the balcony or from the stairs. So if your child suffers from this condition then the first thing that you should do is shift the room of your child to a safer place.
All windows and doors of the house should be firmly locked.
Also another effective method is to keep a diary of the time when the child does sleepwalking. Here the parent should study the patterns of sleepwalking and recognize the time at which the child gets up for walking unconsciously everyday.
Then everyday just 15 minutes before sleepwalking takes place you need to wake up the child and keep him busy with some thing for at least 5 minutes. This method to deal with children sleeping problems has proved effective in at least 80 percent of the cases.
Do you know that about 3% to 12% of preschool kids snore?
A majority of these children are normal and don’t show any signs or symptoms of ill health or other health complications.
While 2% of the total children found snoring may have serious problems and their snoring may contribute to other problems. So, it is important to pay proper attention to children snoring as it may affect them.
Snoring is a sleeping disorder which may be prevalent due to many factors. A child may normally snore due to bad position of sleeping. But this would certainly be an occasional occurrence.
If baby snoring is consistent and chronic then its time you take extra care and consult a doctor. Your child may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) which is a condition where the child never gets sound sleep. Disturbed sleep would then affect the over all health of the child.A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that if a child is a normal snorer and doesn’t suffer from OSAS then he or she would show no other symptoms of this disorder.
On the other hand, if a child snores due to OSAS he would show certain symptoms such a more daytime sleepiness, disruption in sleep, waking up at irregular intervals and then again going to sleep.
A child with sleep apnea will also show behavioral problems, lack of attentiveness, and other problems like poor weight gain or more weight gain, large tonsils with mouth breathing, fast heart rate and much more.
Parents must be very careful to observe such syndromes in child who snore. Even if they do not find such symptoms they must visit a pediatric clinic to confirm whether the child is suffering from any related disorder.
What are the causes of snoring in children?
Baby snoring can be the result of 3 things:
- The first reason may be enlarged adenoids or tonsils.
- The second reason may be defective anatomical structure like small airway passage or jaw that blocks air.
- The third may be the nerves or muscles which control the movement of jaws and air passage are not integrated enough for smoother air passage.
Parents must take immediate steps to cure sleeping disorders in children because in the long run snoring can lead to other problems like mood swings, less attention, weakness, to name a few.
A doctor should be able to administer effective snoring remedies for snoring disorders. If the doctor finds the snoring disorder is due to large adenoids or tonsils then they would remove the enlarged portion by a process called adenotonsillectomy.
If snoring is due to anatomical problems they may use medical devices or other treatment options to correct the disorder.
Consult pediatric otolaryngologists for finding a solution to the problem of baby snoring.
A child who suffers from insomnia needs special care and treatment to overcome the miserable condition which may ultimately affect its physical and psychological well being.
Children with insomnia have trouble going to sleep and often wake up in the middle of their sleep with loud cries or weeping. If a child doesn’t get a goodnight sleep, it may affect the behavior and mood of the child during the day.
Ultimately, the child would start showing symptoms of sleep deprivation. Pediatricians thus advise parents to take care for their children’s sleep a lot.
The common symptoms of disordered sleep pattern resulting from child insomnia are:
- Mood swings
- Lack of attention
- Memory weakness
If these symptoms persist in your child its time you pay a little attention to their sleeping habits.
There are many reasons of insomnia in a child. But the good news is it can be corrected. The prime causes are-their bad habit of going to bed late due to television programs or other factors.
Night terror (as children have imaginative mind and they may perceive ghosts or devils while they try to sleep in dark rooms alone) may also occasion insomnia in children.
The other reasons may include stress, caffeine if they drink beverages, snoring, anxiety, autism, pain, upset tummy, mental retardation and more.
Treatment options for child insomnia may include medications by doctors and other psychological therapies if the child is upset with terror or any disorder like autism.
It is often seen that parents try to stick to medicines for treating child insomnia. But giving medication at such tender age may not be a good factor. You must also try out some other options too. Remember the child may also be deprived of parent’s love especially if you tend to be too busy.
- A child who suffers from insomnia needs psychological treatments like love, and care. Your child may be willing to sleep with you. So lay beside him/her.
- Watch out if the child snores at night, if she does consult a doctor to find out the immediate cause.
- Ask your child how comfortable he or she finds her bed. What colors they want in their room, which pillow they find more comfort sleeping on, and if they are afraid of sleeping alone.
If after diagnosis, the doctor finds that your child is suffering from unrest, stress or other problems, he may refer sleeping pills made that are specially for children.
A child with insomnia may be given melatonin, sedating antidepressants which may include amitriptyline, and clonidine.
Sleep apnea in children
Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder in which people temporarily stop breathing during their sleep. The condition can be seen in both adults and children. Sleep apnea in children is increasingly being recognized as a cause of behavioral problems.
If you notice your child with symptoms like continual loud snoring, weight loss or poor weight gain, mouth breathing, enlarged tonsils, and restless sleep then your child could be suffering from sleep apnea.
In some cases children affected with sleep apnea develop short and heavy necks.
If you suspect that your child is suffering from sleep apnea, then a pediatric ENT specialist should be consulted for further examination.
In many cases the major cause of sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. For this the preferred method of treatment is surgery.
Although removal of tonsils and/or adenoids in children was a common practice but in recent times doctors seek help of alternative treatments for childhood throat infections.
Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy have especially become the preferred treatment for this condition.
Treatment for sleep apnea in children
Sleep apnea is a disease for which effective treatment strategy is needed. There are alternative therapies for sleep apnea which focus on natural ways to provide relief from sleep apnea.
These alternative sleep apnea therapies try to lessen the apnea attacks and also help to impart good quality of sleep.
Relaxation techniques clear out air passages so that one can breathe with ease during sleep. By making your child learn these techniques and frequently practice them, would provide relief him some relief from sleep apnea.
Combining natural remedies with lifestyle improvements like making your child sleep early, regular exercise and more can improve his or her night’s sleep.
Child Bruxism and Teething
Teething patterns vary significantly greatly from baby to baby. But usually, baby teething begins from four to seven months.
After the sprouting of first four front teeth, an infant may show up a lot of symptoms causing you to worry. The common symptoms include fever, swollen gums, less sleep due to pain, diarrhea and others. But many a times the symptoms of bruxism could be confused with normal toddler teething.
What is bruxism?
After they cross their first birthday and have already two pairs of teeth, your baby may show signs of teeth grinding. Teeth grinding during sleep disturbs the sleep and the baby may suffer from sleeping disorders.
Baby grinding teeth may have adverse affects. It may hurt the gums and cause pain which may travel to other organs like ears. If pain traverses to the ear, the baby could try to pull their ears or rub against in pain as they cry in anguish.
Parents must take care of such symptoms and try out the remedies advised by doctors.
Besides the prescribed gels, medicines or methods advised by pediatrics you can apply some effective traditional methods to relieve the baby from teething pain.
You can, for instance, use multi colored amber necklace for teething babies which is believed to reduce the pain and reduce the swollen gums.
Wetting the bed
Kids all over the world wet their bed. In fact child bedwetting is a very common phenomenon.
The medical term for bed wetting is nocturnal enuresis. This can be a very embarrassing problem for the child. This condition may make him feel very lonely. In fact, they may also remain secluded and away from social gatherings as a result of this disease.Wetting the bed is more common in boys than girls.
One thing that you should remember is that bed wetting cannot be stopped by the child. Bed wetting also do not signify that the child is a lazy or disobedient fellow. In fact the medical fraternity regards it as more of a developmental disorder.
The problem of bedwetting can be divided into two types, namely primary bedwetting and secondary bedwetting.
Causes of primary bedwetting in children
Both primary and secondary bedwetting have different causes.
Primary bedwetting can occur due to one of combinations of causes like:
- Holding the urine for a long time during the night
- Inability to wake up during sleep when the bladder is full
- Production large amount of urine during evening and night time
- And finally poor toiletry habits.
Poor toiletry habit is one of the most common causes of primary bedwetting. Most children try to suppress their urge to toilet. This is why parents may notice that a lot of young kids do leg crossing, face straining, groin holding, squirming, and squatting during sleep.
Causes of secondary bedwetting
Causes of secondary bedwetting can be quite different
In fact, they are more or less result of some emotional or medical problems.
The first cause of secondary bedwetting is infection in the urinary tract. Any infection in the bladder also causes an infection in the urinary tract. This in turn increases the urgency of a person to urinate frequently.
People who have high levels of sugar in their body or are suffering from diabetes can suffer from such problems. Their body always tries to get rid of the excess sugar through urination.
Some kind of anatomical or structural abnormality can also cause bedwetting. Any abnormality in the muscles, nerves and organs thus can also be the cause of frequent urination.
Emotional problems like frequent conflicts in the house or a change in the environment like changing school can disturb the child mentally and cause the child to urinate in his pants or in bed.
Child bedwetting can also occur in children who are sexually or physically abused at some point of their life.
Baby won’t sleep
A good night’s sleep is a must for everyone. If your child has sleep disorders you should take it very seriously.
Sleep deprivation can result in very harmful effects on your child. The symptoms of child sleep deprivation could be indicators of several other disorders in your child such as weakened immune system, diabetes mellitus, anxiety, stress, depression, obesity, hindered mental as well as physical development and many more!
What causes sleep deprivation
There could be various causes of sleep deprivation in the child. It could be due to some stimulants in his bedroom or due to his eating habits. Say, for instance if the child consumes too much caffeine (coffee, chocolates) during the day it would reduce his sleep.
If the child faces disturbed sleep, it would also result in no sleep. So make sure the child is not disturbed when he is sleeping.
Also a number of other factors such as environment in the school and home, behavior of friends and parents affect the child’s sleep.
Children suffering from sleep deprivation either experience too many difficulties while going to sleep, or stay asleep or simply have an incomplete sleep through out the night.
As regards the symptoms there are many and can differ according to cases. Some of the more common ones are irritability, frequent changes in moods like depression and hyperactivity, difficulties in concentration, decrease in memory, aggressiveness and many more.
Lack of appropriate sleep or sleep disorders need to be dealt immediately as they can also cause physical and cognitive problems in the child. So, treatment for sleep deprivation is really a matter of concern.
But before going for any kind of medication, the parents should realize that a proper diagnosis to ascertain the cause of the sleep disorder is very essential. Find out if child is suffering from too much of stress at school. Watch his dietary habits and notice changes if any.
Some lifestyle changes on the part of the parents can also help to cure child sleep deprivation. This includes setting up a daily routine before sleep, avoiding waking up too late in the night and also if possible sleeping with the child occasionally.