Does Your Child Have a Sleep Problem?

Sleeping issues among children are often put down to just a phase they are going through, a part of growing up. A child can be mischievous, and not adhering to bedtime is part of this behavior. However, your child may have a pediatric sleep disorder.

Most of us associate sleep disorders with adults, but it is thought around half of children will experience a sleeping problem.

There are a number of sleep disorders a child may suffer from, and they can manifest themselves or be described by a child differently compared to an adult with a similar disorder.

There are certain symptoms which could suggest your child is suffering with a sleep problem. These include:

  • Heavy snoring
  • Drop in performance at school
  • Daytime irritability and moodiness
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Behavioral problems
  • Bedwetting

These are some of the common signs a child may have a sleep problem. The following are disorders your child may experience.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common pediatric sleeping problem. Obstructive sleep apnea affects around 1 in 5, causing breathing difficulties due to narrowing airways. As your child sleeps their muscles relax, and for some this can narrow the airways to the point where it is difficult for air to pass through. It can be harder to spot a child’s obstructive sleep apnea than an adult’s, but the following are some specific symptoms to be aware of:

  • Loud snoring
  • Mouth breathing
  • Interruptions to breathing
  • Snorting and choking
  • Nightmares

During the day your child may be excessively tired and experience concentration problems, as well as display increased behavioral issues. If you suspect sleep apnea you should consult with your child’s doctor, who can arrange a sleep test — which can be conducted at home.

The good news is, as with other disorders related to sleep, once diagnosed treatment is possible. While the exact causes of this disorder are hard to pinpoint, obesity and large tonsils or adenoids are heavily linked.

For an older child, changes to diet and exercise may be recommended. When enlarged tonsils and adenoids are causing the airways to block, your child may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Removal of the tonsils or adenoids may be seen as the best way to alleviate their symptoms.

Medication could be an option for a child whose disorder is a result of allergies, while CPAP may be recommended for others. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy involves a device which supplies air through a mask worn overnight to help keep the airways clear while your child sleeps.

Behavioral Insomnia

Around 1 in 4 children will experience behavioral insomnia, where they struggle to fall and stay asleep. It is largely a younger child under five years old who may suffer with this disorder, which can be caused by changes to their night-time routine. To treat the issue, and to prevent it, establish a consistent evening routine, including feeding times and bedtime.

Movement Disorder

This is a disorder your child may not even be aware they have. The symptoms are regular leg movement or cramps. Parents are most likely to recognize the physical signs first, as well as becoming aware of the signs of poor sleep, such as daytime drowsiness, hyperactivity and increased moodiness.

A home sleep test may be necessary to confirm this disorder, which can usually be treated with medication. While the causes are not fully understood, it may be due to an iron deficiency and an iron supplement recommended.


Parasomnia can be attributed to more abnormal sleeping habits such as sleep walking, sleep talking or night terrors. These forms of sleeping problems can occur while falling asleep or while sleeping. It is quite a common issue and is likely to be a result of genetics, or the result of the effects of sleep deprivation from another sleeping disorder. Stress can also be a factor.

A consistent night-time routine can help prevent this disorder, which most will grow out of by the time they reach adolescence.


This is a very rare disorder, affecting just 1% of people. The disorder causes extreme daytime drowsiness and is largely experienced as narcolepsy. It can also cause prolonged sleep at night, and in the most extreme instances, hallucinations.

While the cause of hypersomnia can be uncertain, it may result from other sleeping disorders, a head injury, nervous system issues or genetics. For some it could be how the brain manages the sleep/wake cycle. Your doctor may recommend a sleep test and if hypersomnia is diagnosed, medication or lifestyle changes, including a consistent night-time routine, may be advised.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

This is a disorder affecting the body clock, where you sleep later and awake later than you would expect. This disorder is more likely seen in a teenager, but can occur at any age. Delayed sleep phase syndrome is not usually attached to other disorders affecting sleep, but will cause excessive daytime fatigue and can increase the risk of depression.

One treatment method is to gradually scale back sleeping times until the required time frame is reached, sticking to the new routine rigidly to avoid going back to delayed sleeping times. Bright light therapy may also be used, which aims to adjust the body clock through exposure to a bright light early in the  morning.

Help Your Child Get the Sleep They Need

Sleep is an important restorative tool and any disorder which impedes sleep can increase the risk of health complications. For your child it can also impact on their education through poor concentration levels.

Sleep patterns alter as a child develops, so diagnosing a disorder can be difficult. However, if you think your child is displaying symptoms of a disorder like obstructive sleep apnea, consult with their doctor. It is better for your child’s long-term health and development to diagnose a pediatric sleeping disorder early.

If your child has sleep problems, our sleep specialists are available to answer your questions.

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