Doctor's Notes on Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children
Sleep disorders in children are common. The most common types of sleep problems in children are described as dyssomnias, which are disorders that can be characterized by a disturbance in the amount, quality, or timing of sleep such as bedtime resistance, delayed sleep onset (difficulty falling asleep), night waking, and excessive daytime sleepiness. These problems are often temporary and go away on their own. Sleep disorders that may require medical intervention include insomnia (difficulty staying asleep), sleep apnea (a cessation of breathing during sleep), sleep-related movement disorders (such as restless leg syndrome), and parasomnias (such as nightmares and sleepwalking).
Symptoms of sleep disorders in children may include snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, problems with sleeping through the night, difficulty staying awake during the day, unexplained decrease in daytime performance, unusual events during sleep, teeth grinding, bedwetting, restless sleep, and difficulty waking up in the morning.
Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children Symptoms
There is no absolute definition of a sleep problem in children, but it is possible to categorize the problems as behavioral or physiological. In addition, it is important to remember that most parental complaints regarding their child's sleeping habits focus on how hard it is to convince their child to either go to sleep or stay asleep. Transient episodes of sleep problems are very common, but usually not serious. Often simple behavioral changes can lead to improvement, and thus it is necessary to identify the underlying possible cause (too many naps, long naps, early bedtime, caffeine, illness, and physical discomfort) in order to correct the sleep problem.
Behaviorally-based sleep disorders are often categorized by complaint or by symptoms.
- Problems with bedtime: This includes dealing with a child's stalling, tantrums, and other resistance to going to sleep, also described as poor sleep routine and hygiene.
- Difficulties falling asleep: This often persists when infants or children do not learn self-calming, or have inconsistent or inappropriate sleep hygiene practices.
- Night waking or difficulties staying asleep: This often occurs as a result of external stimuli, such as excessive noise or light, or internal stimuli, such as hunger or anxiety.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness: This is often caused by sleep deprivation and is often observed in adolescents who may not receive adequate hours of sleep.
Few babies sleep through the night right away. For the first two months, newborns sleep off and on at random times for 12 to 18 hours a day. Most babies sleep through the night by the time they're about 9 months old. Even then, "night" means just five to six hours in a row.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.