Sleep disorders in children: Causes, Symptoms and treatment
Sleep is very important for all human beings; it helps us recover from daily stressors, boosts our immune system, regulates hormones controlling hunger and fullness (a.k.a appetite), and also helps us maintain a healthy weight.
Most adults need somewhere around 7-8 hours of sleep per night for their bodies to function optimally; however, children actually need more sleep than adults- between 10 and 13 hours every day.
Growing kids require more sleep because they are growing! Their muscles, bones, skin, and brain are not fully developed when they are babies. Therefore, even when babies seem to be sleeping all the time, they actually aren't- their brains are still developing and growing just like the rest of their bodies.
Sleep disorders in children can be caused by many different things - from stress to ADHD. It's important to get your child diagnosed and treated for this disorder as soon as possible, as it can lead to problems in school, socialization, and more.
Symptoms of a sleep disorder in children can vary depending on the type of disorder but can include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, snoring, and more. Treatment for a sleep disorder in children may include medication, therapy, or changes to the child's sleeping environment.
Keep reading to learn more about common sleep disorders in children, causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Sleep Disorders in Children: What are they and what causes them?
Sleep disorders are conditions that affect the quality and quantity of sleep a person gets. They can be caused by many different things, including stress, anxiety, medication, or medical problems.
There are many different types of sleep disorders in children, and they can have a negative impact on their daily lives. Below are some of the common sleep disorders in kids.
Common Sleep Disorders In Kids
Behavioral insomnia of childhood
Insomnia is a disorder where children have difficulty falling and staying asleep. They may wake up during the night, fall asleep very slowly, or not feel well-rested after sleeping. This type of insomnia is not due to any medical, psychiatric, or environmental problems. Some common symptoms of insomnia include:
- Having trouble going to sleep
- Frequent waking throughout the night
- Not feeling refreshed after a full nights rest
- Taking a long time to fall asleep
It's important to note that not all sleep problems are insomnia, so it is best to consult your pediatrician so they can do an exam and determine whether or not your child actually has the disorder.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This disorder is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. It usually occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the airway, or when there is a lack of oxygen in the brain.
Apnea means "without breath" and can happen anywhere from 5-30 times per hour for somewhere between 10 seconds to 2 minutes at a time. This blockage can cause the person to carry on breathing for them, causing the body to move in and out of shallow sleep. Children with sleep apnea may snore or gasp during the night because they are having trouble breathing.
This disorder is typically treated by using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) machine. This device helps keep the airway open so your child can have uninterrupted breathing throughout the night.
This disorder is characterized by excessive sleepiness during the day, poor quality of sleep at night, and other symptoms that may include hallucinations or paralysis upon waking up.
Children with narcolepsy typically have difficulty staying awake for extended periods of time and can be very sleepy even when they get enough sleep. There is no cure for narcolepsy, however, it is typically treated with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
This is a category of sleep disorders that involves undesirable behaviors from sleepwalking to bedwetting. Some common parasomnias include:
Sleepwalking: Sleepwalking usually occurs in the first part of the night and can cause children to do things like get up and walk around while they are sleeping. Children who sleepwalk typically have low levels of a brain chemical called Serotonin which is important for mood regulation and sleep.
Night terrors: Kids with night terrors will often wake up screaming, crying, or looking terrified right after they fall asleep. They are unable to be consoled during the episode and some may even jump out of their bed. People who experience night terrors usually need help to calm them down and bring them back to sleep.
Bedwetting or enuresis: This involves involuntary ur urination during sleep. Your child may have a bed bedwetting disorder if they ur urinate more than once a week, wet the bed faster than expected after having been toilet trained for several months or years, and cannot remember it happening.
Restless Leg Syndrome
This disorder involves a strong need to move limbs, most commonly the legs. The child will have an urge to move their legs when they are sitting or lying down and can even have unpleasant sensations in those areas.
Circadian rhythm disorder
This disorder is characterized by a child being unable to sleep and wake at the same time as everyone else. They may fall asleep very late but still be tired during the day, or they may always want to stay up later than what society deems acceptable. This can make it difficult for them to socialize with peers who have more typical sleep schedules.
Causes of sleep disorder in children
Children can suffer from sleep disorders for a variety of reasons, including medical conditions.
Sleep disorders in children may be caused by many factors such as:
- hormonal changes during puberty
- Use of stimulants like caffeine before bedtime
- Neuro-developmental disorders e.g. ADHD or Autism spectrum disorders
What are the symptoms of sleep disorders in children, and how can you tell if your child has one?
Some common signs of sleep disorders in children include:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Trouble waking up for school on time
- Sleeping during the day
- Yawning excessively throughout the day
- Daytime crankiness and mood swings
Children who are suffering from a sleep disorder may also complain about feeling tired even after sleeping for a long time or suffer from mood swings. They may also complain about problems concentrating at school and have a hard time interacting with their peers.
In more severe cases, sleep deprivation can lead to serious health complications such as:
- weight gain
- decreased immunity - making it easier to get sick and harder to fight disease
- decreased mental awareness
- Asthma exacerbation
Children who are sleep-deprived can have a hard time learning new things, doing well in school, or remembering simple tasks like remembering to bring their homework home. They may also show more emotional and behavioral problems.
How can you treat a sleep disorder in your child?
Some common treatments for children's sleep disorders include:
Modifying sleep schedule and routines - Try to keep the same bedtime and wake-up time every day, if possible. Keep things like light exposure and sound consistent as well so that your child can fall asleep more easily. If you want to change their sleep schedule later, try to do it gradually in 15-minute increments so that the body has time to adjust.
Avoiding stimulants or allergens - The use of caffeinated drinks before bedtime is a common culprit in sleep problems among children and teens, so avoid giving them foods or drinks that contain caffeine.
Reduce your child's exposure to other stimulants like television and video games in the hours before bedtime to avoid disrupting their sleep schedule. You may also want to reduce allergens in your home if you suspect they are causing your child's sleep problems.
Melatonin Supplements - Melatonin is also known as the sleep hormone. It helps you sleep by timing your circadian rhythm and also controlling your sleep-wake cycle. Lack of melatonin production by the body can cause difficulties in sleep.
Melatonin supplementation can help your fall asleep quickly and faster. Melatonin is also beneficial for children with ADHD and Autism spectrum disorders.
At Privinta, our melatonin gummy is designed to help your child create healthy sleep patterns.
Breathing devices - There are a variety of breathing devices that can help ease some of the symptoms of sleep disorders in children by creating rhythmic airflow to facilitate breathing.
Therapies - Depending on the underlying cause of your child's sleep disorder, they may benefit from therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness training. These techniques aim to get the child into better habits when it comes to sleeping.
Medication - In cases where your child's sleep disorder is due to a physical condition, they may be prescribed medication. For example, someone with breathing-related sleep apnea may be put on a CPAP machine or continuous positive airway pressure device.
Others may have to take drugs that help calm them down and make it easier for them to fall asleep.
How can parents help their children get a good night's sleep every night?
Set a bedtime and stick to it
Kids need roughly between 9-12 hours of sleep every night. So, set a bedtime that ensures they get enough sleep without making them too tired for school the next day.
Avoid caffeine consumption after 2 pm
Caffeinated drinks like soda or energy drinks can cause your child to wake up several times throughout the night, especially if they are consumed less than six hours before bedtime.
Limit TV and computer use
Television and video game exposure can also cause kids to wake up too frequently during the night.
Monitor screen time overall
Checking smartphones or tablets in the hour before bedtime can be stimulating for young children and disrupt their natural sleep cycle.
While some children may need more sleep than others, keeping bedtime and wake-up times consistent is important for establishing healthy sleeping patterns. If your child naps after school, shorten their nap to avoid delaying their bedtime.
Evaluate the bedroom environment
A stuffy room with too many blankets can make it harder to sleep, so keep the bedroom well-ventilated and comfortable. If your child keeps waking up because they're too cold or hot, bring in a fan or open a window instead.
Avoid physical activity before bed
Kids should not engage in vigorous exercise within two hours of going to bed because it increases their heart rate and body temperature, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
Take the time to sing lullabies or read stories with your child before they go to sleep. This can also help kids wind down and ease themselves into sleeping mode. Having a regular routine is important so that your child becomes accustomed to falling asleep on a schedule.
Are there any home remedies for sleep disorders in children that parents can try before seeking medical help?
While there are no proven home remedies to cure children of chronic sleep disorders (especially those with underlying medical conditions), there are natural aids that can help kids sleep better for onset to mild sleep difficulties. These includes:
- Lavender oil
- chamomile tea
- valerian root
- Privinta's Sleep Support Gummy
Watch Privinta® Melatonin Gummies work naturally with the body's sleep cycle to help your child fall asleep quickly and stay asleep longer. For children, it helps relieve occasional sleeplessness so they can get the long-lasting, quality sleep needed for health, well-being, growth, and development.
Our melatonin gummy is 100% and is free from allergens and toxic additives. It also includes passiflora - a traditional herbal sedative.
Just in case you're wondering...melatonin is considered safe for children. So you don't have to worry about your child reacting to it negatively. Just stick to the dosage found on the bottle.
When to see a doctor
If your child's sleep disorder is disrupting their daily life in every way, has a negative impact on the family overall - from disrupted schedules and relationship issues to missed opportunities because of tiredness, or you suspect a more serious sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, etc., a pediatrician or sleep specialist should be consulted.
Sleep Disorders in Children: Conclusion
If your child is not getting enough sleep, they could be at risk for a number of health problems. In addition to being less productive and more irritable during the day, chronic lack of sleep can also lead to serious illnesses such as obesity or diabetes.
Fortunately, there are things you can do from home that may help your child get better quality rest each night without resorting to medication.
For instance: limit TV time; avoid caffeinated drinks before bedtime, monitor screen time in general, establish a relaxing bedtime routine with reading stories or singing lullabies, or giving them Privinta's melatonin gummy - all these have been shown to help children fall asleep faster on average than those who don't follow any routines (though every family will be different).
If your child is still having trouble sleeping, talk to their doctor or pediatrician. If you suspect your child may have a more serious sleep disorder that requires medical attention, you should consult with both a pediatrician and sleep specialist if needed.