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Children and Sleep Disorders: What Parents Need to Know

By Henry Flores


Sleep is something that is important for your child to grow and develop, but sometimes it can seem like it is impossible to get your child to sleep. Either they refuse to go down for a nap or wake up every few hours during the night. Leaving both you and your child irritable and tired the next day. There are several reasons why your child may be having difficulty sleeping. One of them being a sleeping disorder. 

A sleep disorder affects the quality of sleep as well as the amount of sleep. This leaves a person feeling irritable as well as causes an inability to focus. If a sleep disorder carries on for too long it can lead to underlying physical and or emotional problems. The most common sleep disorders found within children are:

  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Night terrors
  • Sleep apnea
  • Nocturnal enuresis or bedwetting
  • Insomnia 
  • Nightmares

How do I know if my child has a sleep disorder

There are several signs that you, as a parent can look for when trying to determine whether your child is in a sleep regression or struggling with a sleep disorder. These signs include:

  • Continued snoring: This can indicate there is an obstruction to the airway 
  • Breathing interruptions (pauses) or heavy breathing
  • Waking up feeling groggy and not refreshed
  • Struggling to focus or concentrate throughout the day
  • Frequent and continuous night terrors

These are some broad guidelines when it comes to identifying weather or not your child has a sleeping disorder. Every child experiences sleep disorders in their own unique way. 

As an infant, these sleep disorders may result from things such as colic, feeding intolerance, or irritability. As a child gets older these sleep disorders may be a result of a learned behavior. If as a child grows they learn that crying will cause a parent to come and get them, they will adapt this learned behavior and struggle to find a consistent sleeping pattern. A child may grow out of their sleep disorders naturally, but others may need help in overcoming their sleep disorder. 

What do sleep disorders look like for your child

Sleep disorders look different for different children, however there are a few common symptoms that are found within each sleep disorder. 

  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): This is common in adults but as of recent research it has been found to start in childhood. Your child may complain that they cannot sleep because they have the wiggles, or ants in their pants. This may cause them to move around frequently while laying down to try and find some comfort. 
  • Night terrors: These happen during the non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Night terrors differ from a nightmare, in that a child experiencing a night terror will not wake up. They are not a dream like nightmares, but rather a reaction to fear. This reaction may cause the child to start screaming, sleepwalk, have a racing pulse, be inconsolable, and thrash in their sleep. 
  • Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): This often occurs as a result of the enlargement of adenoids and tonsils, or the constriction of the upper airway. This often causes a child’s breathing to be partially or completely blocked during their sleep.  When children have OSA they often experience gasps/snorts/pauses while snoring, breathe heavily while sleeping, and have a restless sleep. 
  • Nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting or nighttime incontinence): This is where a child experiences involuntary urination during sleep after the age of 7. Seven is the general age where children are expected to have developed enough bladder control to not urinate while sleeping. There is no one known reason for bedwetting to occur, but there are some factors that may play a part in why it happens. These factors include things like a small bladder, inability to recognize a full bladder, and a hormone imbalance. 
  • Insomnia: This is where the sleep cycle is disrupted. These disruptions can include difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep. Insomnia can be a result of sleep anxiety or triggers such as chronic stress, pain, or mental health issues. 
  • Nightmares: These are most common in children between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. These are the ages in which fears begin to develop and a child’s imagination is active. Nightmares are where a child experiences a frightening or unpleasant dream. These dreams disrupt the child’s sleep causing them to wake up. Things such as exhaustion and stress or anxiety may increase your child’s risk of having a nightmare. 

How to help a child with a sleep disorder

Children who are experiencing a sleep disorder may be irritable and confused. They don’t understand why they are feeling tired, irritable, and having problems focusing. If you suspect that your child may be struggling with a sleep disorder, there are a few ways that you can help them. 

  • Establish a sleep schedule: This can help minimize nighttime excitement and disturbances. This helps your child find a place of calm as they get ready to sleep. 
  • Talk to a doctor: A doctor can help you identify if in fact your child is struggling with a sleep disorder and help you to find a treatment plan that will help them. 
  • Schedule a sleep study: Sleep studies are used to help doctors understand what your child is struggling with. In addition, it can be used to make medical decisions to help improve your child’s sleep. 
  • Talk with a pediatric sleep consultant: Sleep coaches for kids or child sleep consultants can help you  develop a plan that will help your child achieve a full night of sleep. They work with a family through every step from the initial conversation to the final victory of your child sleeping soundly. 

How can Sleepably Help

Here at Sleepably, we believe that everyone deserves a good sleep. We understand how important sleep is to ensuring you and your family live a healthy life. We offer professional sleep coaching services to people in Denver, Colorado as well as across the U.S. We are here to help your family feel well-rested. Call us at (720) 487-9999 to schedule an appointment with one of our sleeping coaches 

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