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Sleep Disorders & Children

- Summary
- About child sleep disorders
- Types and differences
- Potential causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment and prevention
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.


Sleep disorders are conditions that prevent children from getting a full night of rest on a regular basis. Many children experience some problems associated with sleep. Many of these issues are normal and may not be classified as a sleep disorder.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 100 disorders of sleeping and waking have been identified. These include dyssomnias (disturbances in the amount, timing or quality of sleep) and parasomnias (disorders that involve abnormal behavioral or physiological events during sleep). Some of the most common sleep disorders and problems that affect children include insomnia, sleep apnea, nightmares and night terrors, sleepwalking and bedwetting.

Children who have sleep disorders may have difficulty going to bed and falling asleep, and may frequently awaken during the night. Their sleep patterns may be erratic in terms of regularity and sleep duration and they often may be drowsy during daytime hours. These symptoms may lead to difficulties in a child’s mental and physical development. Children with sleep disorders are also more likely to be moody and to engage in undesirable behavior.

Children require less sleep as they develop. Infants sleep from 16 to 20 hours a day, in four- or five-hour intervals. Because babies sleep in short spurts, naps are very important. At 6 months of age, children require two naps a day instead of three. At 12 to 15 months, they only require one nap daily. By the time they reach age 3 or 4, children usually do not nap and need an average of 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night. By the teenage years, they are sleeping about nine hours per night.

Poor sleep habits are often the cause of a child’s sleep problems. In other cases, emotional difficulties are at the root of a child’s sleep issues. Parents are urged to seek medical attention if their newborn or infant is noticeably fussy over long periods of time. Children should also see a physician if they have breathing problems or noisy breathing, snore loudly, awake at night on a regular basis or have difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep.

To diagnose a sleep disorder, a  physician will perform a complete physical examination and compile a thorough medical history of the child. Other diagnostic methods that may be used include neurological examinations and referral to sleep centers for expert analysis.

Treatment of sleep disorders varies depending on the cause of the disorder. Parents can take many steps to help facilitate their child’s efforts to sleep soundly. Some of these vary depending on the child’s age.

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Review Date: 02-07-2007

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