Sleep is the bodys way of re-energizing and repairing body. When the mind and body are unable to rest, they are not allowed to fully rejuvenate. Studies have shown that children who suffer from some type of sleep disorder are generally more likely to suffer behavioral and academic problems at school. Children suffering from a sleep disorder may appear disruptive, uninterested, depressed, or constantly on edge / anxious. Being able to recognize these symptoms as signs of a sleeping disorder will help parents and teachers understand possible reasons for their childs behavior. When the underlying issue can be addressed, an effective treatment plan can be developed.
One study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that two out of three children under age 10 have experienced symptoms of a sleeping disorder. Certain stressors are believed to trigger sleep disorders in some children. One common trigger is an increase in stress, whether it is academic, personal, spiritual, etc. Once the stressors are known, parents can take steps to help reduce certain triggers for their children. For sleep disorders with no physical cause, a reduction in triggers may be enough to help a child get a good nights sleep. Insomnia is one type of sleep disorder that does not always have a physical cause.
Snoring is a mild example of a sleep disorder that may affect children. Different factors can affect whether or not a person snores, including the size of their tonsils, nasal congestion, etc. Snoring is typically harmless, but it can still result in poor sleep quality. Some people who snore may also notice changes to their sleep cycle over time. Snoring can also be the result of a more serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea, which causes an interruption in breathing while the person is asleep. Common treatments for children suffering from obstructive sleep apnea include allergy management, nasal medication, antibiotics, weight loss, or removal of the tonsils.
Sleep walking and bedwetting are two other sleep disorders that can affect a persons ability to sleep well. Sleepwalking can be the result of a central nervous system that has yet to fully mature (which is why sleepwalking is relatively common amongst children) or simply of being too tired. The most dangerous part of sleepwalking for children is the fact that they are unaware of their surroundings while they are doing it. Parents of children who sleep walk should be especially careful to make their homes safe before sending the sleep walker to bed. Floors should be cleared and stairs should be blocked off.
Bedwetting is very common among children. In most cases, a bed wetting child will have nothing wrong with them, yet the fact that they may wake in the middle of the night and be unable to return to sleep makes bedwetting a factor that can affect a childs sleep, thereby affecting their ability to function while awake. Although bedwetting is rarely caused by a serious medical condition, it can be caused by emotional stress, anxiety, an infection or an allergy.
Sleep is important for growing children, who need as much quality rest as they can get. Different disorders may interrupt the sleep cycle and have different consequences for different children. If parents suspect that their child may be suffering from a sleep disorder, they are encouraged to contact their pediatrician.
Dr. Marshall J. Littman is a San Diego Pediatrician who has been in practice for 35 years. He is also a member of Children’s Physicians Medical Group.