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Recognizing Sleep Disorders in Children

Getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of staying healthy. This is especially true for children, as the body needs rest as it continues to grow and develop. But for many, sleep is hard to come by. Some struggle to fall asleep at night, while others can’t seem to stay asleep. A lack of sleep can lead to all sorts of behavioral and cognitive problems and in some cases can even contribute to other medical and mental issues that a child is facing. Trouble sleeping can also begin to affect a child’s caretaker as they struggle to get sleep, too. To gain a clear understanding of what is going on, a sleep diary is often the first step toward diagnosis and treatment. Here, parents should record at least two weeks’ worth of information including what a child did before bed, how long they slept, and any problems that may have occurred during the night. It also helps to talk to the child in the morning to find out how they feel. Diagnosing and treating a sleep disorder in children is an important part of getting kids back on track and helping them get the sleep they need.

Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders

Snoring may not seem like a big deal, but for many kids, it has a real impact on the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep they get. The most severe example of a sleep-related breathing disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. In this situation, something actually blocks a portion of the airway, causing a child to be without oxygen for a short amount of time and decreasing the saturation of oxygen in the blood. Unlike adults and teens, who tend to be tired in the morning because of the lapses in breathing due to sleep apnea, children often become hyperactive in response to the disrupted sleep. Diagnosis includes a physical exam and often a sleep study that can record the amount of oxygen a child takes in overnight. In extreme cases, a child can undergo an adenotonsillectomy to remove both the adenoids and the tonsils, which may help.

2-4% of children suffer from OSA (obstructive sleep apnea)

2-4% of children suffer from OSA (obstructive sleep apnea)

Sleep-Related Movement Disorders

Once asleep, many children move throughout the night, disrupting their sleep patterns. Parents often notice that their infant may jerk one of their limbs while asleep. This is considered normal up to the age of six months. Sometimes, these movements continue in a rhythmic pattern, causing concern for caretakers. Other instances may just involve a child periodically moving without any type of consistent pattern. In both cases, the actions can cause a child to awaken or, in serious cases, can lead to injury, as the movement occurs at night while the child is unaware. Parents looking to diagnose the issue should make note of what they observe and also try to pinpoint when the movements during sleep started. Treatment options can begin with changes in bedtime routine or decreases in the amount of caffeine ingested before bed. For those with symptoms that are causing a real disruption in sleep or create the risk of injury, medications are an option.


Not being able to fall asleep can pose a real problem at night for children. Some struggle to fall asleep at their given bedtime, lingering awake for extended amounts of time. Others may repeatedly get up to avoid sleep. In the majority of cases, no tests are needed to detect insomnia and behavioral interventions can help a child get back to a consistent sleep routine. To start, parents keeping a sleep diary should record the process of going to bed each night, including the time the child was put to bed, how many times they got up, and any actions taken by the adults. This will often help pinpoint the problem. Insomnia can usually be treated with strict guidelines for bedtime, including a set time for getting into bed, a consistent routine, and avoiding instances when a child gets up multiple times before falling asleep.

20-30% of children suffer from insomnia

20-30% of children suffer from insomnia


Parasomnias focus on something unpleasant that occurs during the sleep cycle. Nightmares are just one example of something commonly experienced by children. However, there are more serious issues that continue to occur and affect sleep, including night terrors, sleepwalking, and enuresis (wetting the bed). Just like any other sleep disorder, it is important to keep a sleep diary to document they type of parasomnia and when it occurs. Treatment options include ensuring a good bedtime routine and, in the case of enuresis, avoiding liquid intake before bed. In severe cases, there are medications available.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

More common in adolescents and teens, circadian rhythm sleep disorders affect a person’s internal clock. There are several variations of this type of disorder. Some keep a teen up late at night and make it difficult to wake in the morning, creating a different schedule for the body’s sleep and wake times. Some individuals experience irregular patterns of sleep and wake times, creating an unpredictable schedule. Still others struggle to maintain a 24-hour day, causing them to stay up later and later each night until they are sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. One of the common treatment options involves creating good sleep hygiene. This includes setting apart a place to sleep that is comfortable and dark, avoiding electronics for at least an hour before bed, and avoiding caffeine before bedtime. Creating a consistent bedtime schedule can also help an adolescent or teen struggling with any type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

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About Author

Derek Hales

Derek Hales

Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Derek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sleepopolis. Derek has tested over 80 of the most popular online mattresses, and scores of other bedding accessories. His testing approach is grounded in objective criteria and personalized in-depth research. Derek lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Samatha and dog Tibbers.

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