While many kids in contemporary life get insufficient sleep because of lifestyle and electronic media, other health issues may be involved. Click on any of the sleep disorders in children listed below for more information. The sleep disorders fall into two general categories: dysomnias and polysomnias.
Dysomnias are a broad classification of sleeping disorders that make it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep.
Sometimes even sooner than a child can talk and walk independently, poor sleep habits and certain interactions with parents can get in the way of falling asleep.
Changing bedtime behaviors by creating a bedtime routine and setting limits sometimes helps children with insomnia. Most sleep experts agree it is important to allow children to fall asleep on their own. Children can become used to your presence in the room at bedtime and expect it even if they wake during the night. This can lead to Sleep Onset Association Disorder where they must have a certain person, object or activity or they cannot fall asleep. This is seen in toddlers and preschoolers where insomnia is seen in school-age children and teenagers.
Children with symptoms of RLS at least a few times a week sleep an hour less (8.9 hours vs. 9.9 hours) and are twice as likely to wake up during the night (40% versus 21%) as children with no RLS symptoms, according to NSF’s 2004 Sleep in America poll.
Though the cause of restless legs syndrome is unknown, it may run in the family or be due to iron deficiency. Treatment in children is not well established, but deserves discussion with a pediatrician and sleep specialist.
Sleep disorders characterized by arousal, partial arousal, or sleep stage transitions. They are marked by abnormal behaviors during sleep.
Children experiencing sleep terrors may pose dangers to themselves or others because of limb movements. Night terrors are fairly common in children and occur in approximately 5% of them, mostly between the ages of three to five. Children with sleep terrors will often also talk in their sleep or sleepwalk. This sleep disorder, which may run in families, also can occur in adults. Strong emotional tension and/or the use of alcohol can increase the incidence of night terrors among adults. Stress can also trigger night terrors in children, as can illness, but one of the most common causes is inadequate sleep.
Sleepwalking appears to run in families. Contrary to what many people believe, it is not dangerous to wake a person who is sleepwalking. The sleepwalker simply may be confused or disoriented for a short time upon awakening. Although waking a sleepwalker is not dangerous, sleepwalking itself can be dangerous because the person is unaware of his or her surroundings and can bump into objects or fall down. They can fall out of windows or leave the house. There are many “accidents” and “suicides” that may have been instances of sleepwalking. In most children, it tends to stop as they enter the teen years.
Nocturnal seizures and their mechanisms are poorly understood. The majority of people with nocturnal seizures have idiopathic epilepsy and there is evidence that sleep enhances epileptic discharges in the EEG, though their daytime recordings may appear to be normal. For many people with epilepsy, seizures occur exclusively during sleep. Researchers (Young, et al) estimate 10% of people with epilepsy display seizures exclusively during sleep. Thus, this is a common phenomenon.
Primary sleep disorders such as parasomnias or sleep apnea can mimic, trigger or be caused by seizures. Most nocturnal seizure disorders are attributed to temporal or frontal lobe foci. Nocturnal seizures may present at any time, but the peak age of onset is adolescence. Any nocturnal movement disorder and any tendency to perform bizarre or stereotyped movements in sleep should be evaluated with a fully monitored and video-taped overnight sleep study with a full seizure EEG montage.