Common sleeping disorders in children can include bed-wetting, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, night terrors, and other conditions. These can occur at any age, from infancy into the teenage years, and may result from a number of causes. This article is intended to give parents and others concerned with this issue some basic facts that can help them to spot problems early on. But for an accurate diagnosis or authoritative advice, a medical professional should be consulted.
Children and Sleep
Newborn infants typically begin life spending about 50% of their sleep time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, as opposed to around 20% for adults. Also, they enter REM sleep right after dozing off, unlike grownups, who typically do so after about 90 minutes.
By the time a child is six months old, their sleep pattern has been established and is very much like an adult’s. By their first birthday most of their sleep takes place during nighttime hours, though they still doze on and off throughout the day. This tapers off until age four, by which time they usually no longer require daytime naps.
The amount of slumber needed gradually lessens as well. Very young children may sleep as much as 16 hours a day or more, but this need decreases until the time they reach adolescence, they can get by with eight or nine hours a night.
While these are the usual patterns, problems sometimes develop which parents should be on the lookout for. They include:
These are normal during the first six months, after which time most children begin sleeping through the night. In about 30% of cases, however, kids as old as four wake up frequently during evening hours, and will require parental intervention to get back to sleep. If this pattern continues after age four, then a family physician or pediatrician should be consulted.
These often occur about 90 minutes after the child has fallen asleep. He or she will suddenly sit up and beginning screaming and sobbing. These periods can last as long as half an hour before subsiding, and attempts to calm or comfort the child are usually unsuccessful.
Night terrors happen most often in children from three to eight years old. Common causes are insufficient sleep and emotional turmoil. Ensuring the child gets enough rest or removing the causes of distress relieves the problem more often than not. In cases where it continues, a doctor should be seen. Medications like Valium, given in very small doses, have been shown to be effective in treating this disorder.
Sleepwalking and Sleep-talking
Both of these are extremely common among children. Sleepwalking can range from actively walking around the home to merely shifting around restlessly in bed. Sleep-talking usually takes the form of subdued whispering or unintelligible mumbling. School-aged kids are most likely to exhibit these behaviors. A physician should be consulted if your child engages in either one, but medical intervention is usually unnecessary. In the case of somnambulism (sleepwalking) some precautions should be taken, such as locating the child’s bedroom on the first floor to avoid stairs.
As the brain develops these behaviors normally disappear on their own.
Bed Wetting (Nocturnal Enuresis)
This is one of the most common sleep problems in kids. Children who develop slower than others may begin to exhibit it around age six. Causal factors include a family history of bed-wetting and a smaller than normal “functional bladder” (the volume of urine a bladder can hold before emptying begins). A visit with the family physician is recommended when this occurs, but in-depth diagnostic exams are usually unnecessary. Behavior changes like limiting fluid intake prior to bed or waking the child for a preventative trip to the bathroom can help. The most effective treatment is the use of a bed-wetting alarm, available on the Internet or at medical supply stores.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
While this condition normally affects adults, it can occur in kids as much as 3% of the time. Snoring, mouth breathing, and breath stoppage during sleep are all common symptoms. Causes include inflamed tonsils, obesity, allergies, and neuromuscular diseases. Left untreated, apnea in kids can cause delayed intellectual development, ADHD, or behavior problems. In all cases a physician should be consulted as soon as possible. Treatment options range from weight loss to a tonsillectomy.
Simply defined, this means falling asleep during inappropriate times, even when one is well rested. It usually manifests itself in adults, but sometimes strikes during the childhood years. Symptoms may include extreme sleepiness throughout the day or a strong resistance to getting out of bed, accompanied by confusion or disorientation when being roused from slumber.
If you suspect your child may suffer from this disorder, then a doctor must be consulted immediately. Treatment options include stimulant medications and regularly scheduled naps. Usually a sleep specialist is brought in to confirm the diagnosis.
Refusing to Sleep
If you’ve ever wondered how to get your child to sleep, then you can take comfort in the fact that you’re far from alone. “Tell me one more story!” or “but I want a drink of water!” are common ploys used by kids who aren’t ready to turn in yet. Behavioral experts recommend gently but firmly advising the little one that bedtime has arrived, and they must get their sleep. Extreme defiance or other behavioral issues should be referred to a physician or child psychologist.
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