Many children suffer from sleep disorders that prevent them from getting a sufficient amount of sleep. Sleep disorders and insufficient amounts of sleep in children, can affect brain development, cause behavioral problems, and impact the overall quality of life for children and their families. Sleep problems can also cause anxiety and depression in children. In some cases, sleep deprived children may show hyperactive or inattentive behavior during the day, instead of tiredness. These children are sometimes misdiagnosed and treated for attention deficit hyperactive disorders, when the actual problem is a sleep disorder.
Types of Sleep Disorders in Children
Sleep disorders in children are classified into two different categories, depending on the symptoms. Dyssomnias are sleep disorders that may cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and are commonly characterized by excessive sleepiness and disturbances in the amount or quality of sleep. Parasomnias are sleep disorders that involve abnormal movements, behaviors or emotions during sleep and may include sleepwalking, night terrors, nightmares and rhythmic movement disorders such as head banging. Children may experience different symptoms from different types of sleep conditions. There are several different types of sleep disorders that commonly affect children.
Some children suffer from insomnia, which involves difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up in the morning. Insomnia may then cause children to be excessively tired during the day and affect their performance at school.
Although sleep apnea is more common in adults, some children experience sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is the result of of difficulty breathing because of obstructed air passages. Symptoms may include snoring, difficulty breathing during sleep,or excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is usually not serious in children, but some children may benefit from removal of the tonsils and adenoids.
During a night terror, a child is suddenly and partially aroused from sleep. It is usually associated with emotional outbursts, fear, and excessive crying, and the child is not fully awake. Night terrors occur often in children between the ages of three and eight. The child has no memory of night terrors once they are fully awake.
Sleep walking is most common among children between the ages of eight and twelve. The child may get out of bed with his eyes open and walk through the house, although they are not fully awake. Their speech is often mumbled. Children usually outgrow sleepwalking by adolescence.
Sleep-onset anxiety refers to difficulty falling asleep because of anxiety, excessive fears or worries. This type of sleep disorder may be caused by stressful events or trauma, and is most common among older elementary school children.
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness. In addition, children with narcolepsy may also experience random, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime.
Treatment of Sleep Disorders in Children
When sleep disturbances disrupt a child‘s daily life, a doctor should be consulted. Treatment for sleep disorders in children varies depending on the type of disorder and the associated symptoms. In many cases, sleep disorders may be caused by stress or anxiety that can be commonly treated with therapy or behavioral interventions.In situations where the cause of the sleep disturbance is unknown, an overnight sleep study, or polysomnography, may be performed, especially for children with daytime sleepiness and problems staying asleep. This study monitors the child‘s body functions while he or she sleeps, in order to determine the cause of the sleeping disorder. Once a cause has been identified, an appropriate treatment plan may be implemented.