Sleep disorders can greatly interfere with daily activities, cognitive function, and your child’s overall health and wellbeing. Sleep disorders are typically diagnosed by looking at clinical presentation and family history as well as the conduction of various sleep studies.
Although there are many different types of pediatric sleep disorders, some of the most common include:
Insomnia can be a very frustrating disorder for both parents and children. It is characterized by an inability to get an adequate amount of sleep. Symptoms include irritability, difficulty concentrating, trouble falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, and waking up too early. Insomnia can be chronic or short-term and can have a great effect on your child’s life.
Insomnia has a variety of causes, including depression and anxiety, stress, or chronic pain. Symptoms can be exacerbated by factors such as sugar and caffeine intake as well as excessive screen time.
Behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes are the most common and effective treatments for insomnia, particularly in pediatric cases in which medication is not generally an option. For many families, targeted Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful.
Hypersomnia / Narcolepsy
While narcolepsy is relatively uncommon in children, older kids and teenagers can sometimes be affected. Narcolepsy is a neurological condition that is thought to be caused by a disruption in the area of the brain that controls sleep. Hypersomnia refers to excessive daytime sleepiness and is most often linked to narcolepsy.
- Excessive sleepiness
- Suddenly falling asleep
- Trouble concentrating in school and with other activities
- Cataplexy — sudden muscle weakness and collapse
- Sleep paralysis or hallucinations (in some cases)
Triggers for developing narcolepsy can include autoimmune disorders, brain injuries, tumors, infections, and even environmental toxins. Having a family member with narcolepsy seems to increase an individual’s risk of developing narcolepsy as well.
Hypersomnia can also be caused by a variety of other conditions, including other sleep disorders, a concussion, and epilepsy.
While there is currently no cure for the condition, narcolepsy can be managed by a 3-pronged approach that includes medication, lifestyle changes, and coordination with your child’s caregivers and educators.
Sleep apnea occurs when your child has trouble maintaining a constant breathing pattern during sleep.
- Excessive snoring
- Periods of reduced or stopped breathing during sleep
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Tossing and turning
- Waking frequently
- Trouble staying awake
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central. With central sleep apnea, the brain stops signaling the body to breathe. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, there is an actual blockage of the upper airway in the back of the throat that causes the symptoms. Sleep apnea can be more common in overweight individuals as well as those with a family history of the disorder.
Treatment may include a CPAP or BPAP machine to help your child breathe at night, medication such as nasal steroids, or even surgery if tonsils or facial anatomy is a factor.
This group of common sleep issues can be one of the most frightening. It includes symptoms such as frequent nightmares, night terrors, sleep talking, and even sleepwalking. Parasomnias are most common in children and can be quite upsetting for young kids.
Causes can include other comorbid sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, as well as restless leg syndrome, sleep deprivation, and PTSD or anxiety disorders.
Treatment includes taking the necessary safety measures around your house (such as door locks and chimes), a commitment to healthy sleep habits, and modifications of the sleeping environment.
Parents may need additional support to help their child manage these sleep behaviors and know how to best calm their upset child.
Delayed Phase Sleep Syndrome
Most common in older children or teens, this disorder is similar to jet lag in that the child’s body gets “stuck” on a different than normal sleep rhythm (for example, going to bed past midnight and waking at 10 am).
The cause is typically lifestyle-related, and thus treatment is relatively easy with a commitment to good, healthy sleep habits and lifestyle changes. In some cases, medication such as melatonin may be needed to help jumpstart the shift to a regular sleep cycle. Light therapy can also be helpful to help reset the body’s internal clock.
If you think your child may be experiencing any of the above sleep disorders, please let us know, and we will get you set up with one of our knowledgeable pediatricians!