Sleep disorders in children are not uncommon. Up to 30 percent of children develop sleep disorders at some point, according to the National Association of School Psychologists (2004).
Sleep disorders in children may stem from behavioral factors or immaturities in the child’s central nervous system (CNS), and will usually resolve over time as the child matures. Emotional or behavioral sleep disorders in children can often be treated with lifestyle interventions.
Sleeping Through the Night
Sleeping through the night is important for proper rest, especially in growing children. Children require different amounts of sleep as they age, and “enough sleep” means different things at different points in a child’s development.
Sleeping through the night is unlikely from birth to four months, when infants wake up several times a night. By three months, most babies sleep six to 10 hours a night, and by six months, a baby sleeps 10 to 12 hours per night. Despite this increase, infants may still not be sleeping through the night, and may wake at intervals.
As children get older, sleep disorders â€” such as nightmares, sleepwalking or bedwetting â€” can interfere with sleep, causing daytime drowsiness and affecting schoolwork and socialization.
Night Terrors and Nightmares in Children
Many children experience either nightmares or night terrors at some point. Both night terrors and nightmares in children can result in scared and upset children â€” and parents â€” but the two conditions are very different.
Nightmares in children occur during REM sleep, when dreaming occurs. Children may wake up scared and have difficulty returning to sleep after nightmares, but can be comforted and eventually return to sleep.
Night terrors occur during non-REM sleep. Though children may cry out, thrash or sit up in bed during a night terror, they do not wake and will likely not remember the incident in the morning. If your child is experiencing a night terror, don’t try to wake him up â€” this can be upsetting for the child. Instead, stay with him until the night terror subsides to ensure he doesn’t hurt himself.
Bedwetting, or “nocturnal enuresis,” is a problem for many children. Bedwetting may occur because the child’s bladder control is not yet fully developed. As bladder control improves, bedwetting becomes less frequent and the child begins sleeping through the night more often.
Bedwetting in older children can be a sign of emotional or physical problems. Stressful events, anxiety and emotional turmoil can cause bedwetting in older children. Rarely, physical conditions that affect the bladder or nervous system cause bedwetting in older children.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) causes sudden, inexplicable deaths in otherwise healthy babies. More than 2,200 children under 1 year of age died of SIDS in 2002, according to the National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center (n.d.).
Although SIDS death rates have declined in recent years, it remains the leading cause of death in infants under 1 year of age, according to the National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center (n.d.). Exact causes of the sleep disorder remain unknown, but placing a baby to sleep on her back, rather than her stomach, seems to reduce the risk of SIDS. Secondhand smoke exposure and maternal smoking during pregnancy increase SIDS risk.
Boyse, K. (2009). Sleep problems. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/sleep.htm.
Dawson, P. (2004). Sleep and sleep disorders in children and adolescents. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/health_wellness/sleepdisorders_ho.aspx.
National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center. (n.d.). What is SIDS? Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.sidscenter.org/documents/SIDRC/WhatIsSIDS.pdf.
Thiedke, C. (2001). Sleep disorders and sleep problems in childhood. Retireved September 15, 2010, from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0115/p277.html.