Sleep Disorders Affecting Children; Does Your Child Need a Sleep Study?

Behavioral issues may be caused by lack of sleep. 

Inadequate sleep for children can also lead to other behavioral issues such as excessive tiredness, irritability as well as learning and memory problems. The Wall Street Journal reports that it can increase a child’s risk for developing symptoms of depression, anxiety and even autism. As if it couldn’t get much worse, sleeping problems can up a child’s probability of suffering from childhood obesity. There’s a reason why we place so much emphasis on quality rest.  Sleep is important! Especially for our kids.

Sleeping disorders are broken down into two categories, including dyssomnias and parasomnias. Starting with dyssomnias, this category of disorder is characterized by difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep or excessive sleepiness. Snoring is a dyssomnia almost all of us are familiar with. Many conjure up images of their grandparents in a rocking chair when they think of this common sleeping habit but surprisingly, one out of every 10 children consistently snore, usually due to nasal congestion, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils . Snoring interferes with quality of sleep and disturbs sleep cycles, diminishing daytime alertness and leading to dramatic changes in energy and mood.

Sleep apnea, another common dyssomnia, is snoring’s more-extreme cousin.

Sleep apnea is characterized by the cessation of breathing during sleep and results in symptoms ranging from annoying (nighttime snoring with occasional pauses and sleep disruption) to downright scary (gasping and choking). Learn more about sleep apnea here. In children, sleep apnea is usually the result of enlarged tonsils or adenoids, obesity and sometimes even allergies. It can cause a slew of less-than-favorable consequences including abnormal growth and development, bed-wetting, behavioral and learning problems, daytime sleepiness, and ADHD.

Treatment for sleep apnea in children is dependent on the cause. Possible approaches include weight loss, management of allergic rhinitis, nasal steroids, antibiotics, or removal of adenoids or tonsils. Sometimes, children with obstructive sleep apnea use continue positive airway pressure machines (CPAP) that deliver compressed air through nasal masks that keeps the child’s airways open. Learn more about when a child would need CPAP here.

Parasomnias are what we consider the more traditional childhood sleep disorders.  

They involve abnormal and unnatural movements, perceptions or dreams in attempt to fall asleep or while sleeping. One parasomnia sleep disorder is sleepwalking. While sleepwalking, thought to result in children from an immature central nervous system or overtiredness, can provide for some interesting and hilarious stories, its nature of uncontrollable movements in sleep poses serious risks.  Another, perhaps more embarrassing and messy parasomnia that children and their guardians are all too familiar with is bed-wetting. Bed-wetting usually continues into elementary school and persists later into childhood for more boys than girls. The causes of these untimely bladder slips (known in the medical community as nocturnal enurisis) are diverse and can include emotional or anxiety issues, infections or allergies.

Nightmares, night terrors and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) also affect children

Think back to your childhood years. Maybe way back. Do you remember insisting on sleeping in your parents’ room after having a bad dream? These frightening nightmares that occur during the rapid eye movements (REM) phase of the sleep cycle are usually caused by a combination of emotional stress occurring during the day and an inability to distinguish imagination from reality. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 3% of preschool and school-aged children have frequent nightmares .

If a nightmares are PG-13 thrillers, then night terrors are your NC-17 horror films. They are distinguished from nightmare because they not only involve a disturbance from sleep, but also induce screaming, crying, increased heart rates and dilated pupils. 

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is also found to occur in children 8 and above. Unfortunately, RLS in children is associated with some pretty serious behavioral problems, including depression and ADHD.


As more awareness is raised about the prevalence of sleep disorders within children and their linkage to various health issues including obesity, depression and ADHD, more children are being property diagnosed and treated through sleep studies. Now there’s a bit of news that will help you sleep tonight.

If you think your child may have one of these sleep disorders, speak to your child’s physician. You can request a consultation with one of our sleep specialists here:

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