Sleep Disorders in Children
Sleep is important to everyone, especially children. A good nightís sleep helps a child feel rested, refreshed and full of energy. Without an adequate amount of sleep, a child may be unable to focus and feel tired, irritable, frustrated, impulsive and overly emotional.
Although individual needs may vary, experts say that most children between the ages of 5 and 12 years old need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night.
If your child is having difficulty sleeping, it may be a sign of a sleep disorder. To determine if this is the case, there are a number of symptoms to watch for:
CAUSE OF SLEEP PROBLEMS
- Frequent awakening during the night
- Waking up crying
- Nightmares, bedwetting or screaming at night
- Teeth grinding or clenching
- Early waking
- Daytime sleepiness
- Sleeping in unusual positions
- Respiratory pauses
Sleep disorders are often not recognized in children and symptoms related to sleep deprivation might be wrongly attributed to over scheduling, hyperactivity or behavior disorders.
Most childhood sleep problems are due to poor or irregular sleep habits or anxiety about going to bed and falling asleep. You arenít doing your child any favors if you give in to her begging to stay up late to watch a TV show. Children thrive on routines and their bodies become physically accustomed to them. When a routine is broken, or a child is overtired or over stimulated, she will probably have more trouble falling asleep.
For many children, bedtime is a time of separation from their parents and possibly their siblings if they have their own room. Some kids will do anything to prevent that separation and the anxiety that accompanies it. Frequent trips to the bathroom and needing a drink of water are often excuses for delaying sleep. However, children are better off if you maintain a good bedtime schedule.
COMMON SLEEP PROBLEMS
- Night terrors or sleep terrors are
most common between the ages of 4 and 12 and usually occur about two to three hours after your child falls asleep. During a night terror, a child might suddenly sit upright in bed and shout and scream in distress. His breathing and heart rate might be faster than normal and he may sweat, thrash around and act upset or scared. Usually kids will calm down on their own after a few minutes and return to sleep. Unlike nightmares, which kids often remember, they wonít have any memory of a night terror the next day because they were in a deep sleep when it happened. Itís best not to try to wake kids during a night terror because it often makes it worse, and they may take longer to settle down. Night terrors run in families and affect boys more than girls.
Sleepwalking is similar to night terrors, in that it also runs in families, it affects more boys than girls and it occurs in the same stage of sleep. Sleepwalking can begin between the ages of 6 and 12 and usually occurs a few hours after your child goes to sleep. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleepwalking may happen several times a night among older children and teenagers. Although your childís eyes may be open while she is walking around the house, she is not awake and isnít aware of her actions. It isnít necessary to awaken a child who is sleepwalking because it might scare her. Instead, gently guide her back to bed. Protect your daughter when she is sleepwalking by removing dangerous objects from her room, locking the windows and doors and watching her around stairs. They typically do not remember sleepwalking the next morning.
Teeth grinding or clenching is usually not a concern, unless itís leading to tooth damage. It may, however, cause a stiff neck, headaches or other painful symptoms. A dentist can decide if a mouth guard would be useful to help to prevent damage to their teeth.
Nightmares typically begin around the age of 3 and happen during the second half of a nightís sleep in what is called rapid eye movement sleep. A nightmare is basically a scary dream. Although kids usually understand that a nightmare is only a dream and canít really hurt them, they still feel scared and need comfort from their parents. Nightmares can happen for no reason at all, or as the result of something scary they saw on TV or in a movie. They also happen during stressful life events like when a divorce or death is affecting their family situation or if they have recently had to move or change schools.
The following tips may help both you and your child get a good nightís rest:
- Have a bedtime routine and stick to it. Include a winding-down time, warm bath, teeth brushing and calming story. Give your child time signals at 30 and 10 minutes before bedtime.
- Donít let your child drink soda or anything else with caffeine (like hot chocolate) with or after dinner.
- Be careful about watching scary or action-packed TV shows or movies close to bedtime.
- Exercise is great for helping induce sleep, as long as itís not done immediately before bed. Put sports equipment away about two hours before bedtime.
- If your child canít immediately fall asleep, encourage her to read a book or listen to soft, soothing music. If it helps, leave a nightlight or closet light on in her room.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Parents should call their pediatrician or family doctor if night terrors, sleepwalking or nightmares occur several times a night or nightly for weeks at a time. Doctors should also be made aware if your child experiences behavior changes, like falling asleep in school or inability to focus.
Kids who have experienced trauma, witnessed violence or encountered stressful events, may have nightmares or other difficulty sleeping. Kids who have encountered these types of circumstances may benefit from professional counseling.
Fortunately, as children mature, they usually overcome common sleep problems as well as the more serious disorders.
If youíve made every effort to help your child with his sleep problems and have not found a solution, seek the advice of your pediatrician, or contact the Akron Childrenís Hospital Sleep Center at 330-543-8318.