Children require more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical growth. However, sleep disorders are common in children and if untreated can lead to behavioural, academic, social and developmental problems. Poor pediatric sleep also disrupts the parent’s sleep and family functioning and should be addressed with your physician.
Sleep difficulties in children may occur due to:
- Behavioural issues: Bedtime problems, resisting sleep, poor sleep patterns and difficulty falling back to sleep.
- Parasomnias: Abnormal events or experiences mostly occur during the phase of deep sleep but can also occur while falling asleep or waking up. Children who have parasomnias usually don’t remember the events the next morning. The most common types of parasomnias include confusional arousal, sleep walking/talking, bed rocking, and night terrors.
- Medical causes: Disordered breathing during sleep such as snoring and sleep apnoea (periodic shallow or arrested breathing during sleep), and gastric problems can contribute to sleep problems in children.
Children with poor sleep habits or disorders usually have problems with concentration, learning and memory. They may also suffer from depression, anxiety, obesity and other health problems.
It’s important to consult with a sleep specialist to evaluate and treat the child’s condition. Your child’s sleep specialist will review their symptoms and history and may ask you to maintain a diary of your child’s sleep habits. An overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram may be recommended to determine if your child has a sleep disorder.
Behavioural pediatric sleep disorders may be treated by educating parents about proper sleep patterns and making the child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – cool, quiet and dark. If a child is overtired it can trigger parasomnias and these episodes are best managed with education and support. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest, is not overly stressed, and has a safe environment.
Management of pediatric sleep disorders due to medical conditions involves treating the underlying causes. Medication may be prescribed to treat gastric problems. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are a frequent cause of airway obstruction in children, particularly in sleep. The treatment ia surgery to remove chronically enlarged tonsils (tonsillectomy) and/or adenoids (adenoidectomy) that block the airway. Sleep apnoea may be treated by adjusting the child’s sleep posture; oral appliances may be designed to help maintain an open and unobstructed airway. In severe cases, your child’s doctor may recommend a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device which consists of a mask connected to a pump that delivers pressurised air to keep the airway open.