Symptoms and Signs of Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/13/2022

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 (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.

What is the treatment of sleep disorders in children?

Treatments of sleep disorders in children may be helped by the following suggestions that involve sleep education methods and medications:

  • Regular sleep – wake protocols
  • Avoid bright lights before bedtime
  • Medical sleep aids – many choices; for example, melatonin, doxepin, zolpidem, suvorexant
  • Bright light therapy -  bright lights (2,000 lux) on during the first 1 – 2 hours after waking up
  • Sleep log to monitor sleep

Some children may have problems that manifest as sleep disorders as a symptom. Such problems may include sleep apnea, hyperactivity disorder, nightmares, sleepwalking, and trauma (physical and/or mental). A pediatric specialist should be consulted.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.