As parents, we are constantly worrying about our children. One major factor that kicks off as soon as they are born is sleep. Although your heart is overflowing with love at that precious bundle you brought home, sleep is now a cherished commodity. And while your rest is cause for concern, you are overwhelmed with worries about your child’s sleep. Are they sleeping enough? Are they sleeping too much? Will they ever sleep through the night before they’re 18? There are also more serious types of problems that may mean your child is dealing with a sleeping disorder. The best way to combat all the apprehension crowding a parent’s brain is to be informed.
What are the most common types of sleep disorders in children?
Nightmares and Night Terrors
Most likely, all of us have experienced nightmares. That moment when you wake up and can’t decide if it was all real? For children, that can be a tough situation to deal with as they are still learning to differentiate between real and unreal. A reassuring presence is helpful to comfort the child back to sleep. Night terrors occur early in the night during non-REM sleep. While these occurrences can seem traumatic, generally children do not remember the incident the next morning. The most important thing to do during this situation is to confirm the child’s safety while refraining from waking them.
Sleep Talking and Sleepwalking
Because sleep talking most commonly occurs during light sleep, you can consider it an indicator that a change might need to be made to the bedtime routine. Sleepwalking, on the other hand, will involve more ingenuity. While sleepwalking, children are unaware of their behavior and surroundings. One major step towards safeguarding the child’s well-being is to safety-proof their bedroom and any area of the house to which they have access. It is also beneficial to keep a schedule of regular sleepwalking events and wake the child around half an hour before the episode would normally occur.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
It is important to recognize the difference between snoring and sleep apnea. Snoring is a common occurrence among adults as well as children. Although it is not always a cause for concern, if a child is snoring significantly and exhibiting pauses between breaths followed by gasps, they may have sleep apnea.
What does sleep apnea look like? Symptoms may include long pauses in breathing, excessive tossing and turning in the bed, chronic mouth breathing during sleep, and night sweats. Affected children will also show signs of sleep deprivation: daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and hyperactivity. Discuss these symptoms with your pediatrician for more information on the next step to take in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
A neurological condition with a genetic component, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) can easily be misunderstood as growing pains or inattentiveness. The Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation website displays artwork from children living with RLS. The artwork depicts how the children feel about the condition with some describing it as “bees crawling in my feet and legs” or “a fight with my legs I know I can never win.” The website also lists the five essential features that must be present for a correct diagnosis of RLS:
- A strong urge to move your legs.
- Symptoms begin or become worse when you are resting or inactive.
- Symptoms get better when you move and are active.
- Symptoms are worse in the evening or night than during the day.
- Symptoms are not solely accounted for by another condition.
Now that we are armed with information, how do we use it to the advantage of our children? Keeping a sleep diary with a log of problems, episodes, and any changes made to the bedtime routine can be very beneficial. Sleep and breathing disorder centers can also be a major resource. The staff at the Comprehensive Sleep and Breathing Disorders Center is committed to providing broad-based, efficient, affordable, and concerned care. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and let the Comprehensive Sleep and Breathing Disorders Center ease your worries over your child’s sleep with a tailored evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment plan.