Sleep disorders are incredibly common in children, but they can be difficult to diagnose and treat. In fact, roughly 40% of children will experience some type of sleep problem at some point that their parents would characterize as significant. Unfortunately, there are many different types of sleep disorders and problems that can affect children. To make matters even more confusing, it can be difficult for children to explain their experiences, and difficult for parents to understand their child actually needs help.
Common Sleep Disorders
To ensure you are prepared to help your child deal with any sleep problems that may arise, it is important for you as the parent to understand some common types of sleep problems that occur in children. There are two major categories of sleep disorders that affect children – parasomnias and dyssomnias. Some examples of parasomnias include:
- Night terrors. A child suffering from night terrors will wake up screaming frequently. However, despite the fear and panic related to the experience, the child may have no recollection of the event the next day.
- Nightmares. We’ve all experienced bad dreams, but persistent nightmares can become a sleep disorder in some children.
- Sleepwalking. Although sleepwalking only affects 1% of adults, it is actually quite common in children.
- Rhythmic movement disorders. Children suffering from this disorder may rock or bang their heads while sleeping.
Common issues related to dyssomnia include:
- Difficulties with sleep-onset. Some children may experience unusual difficulties with falling asleep, however hard they try.
- Snoring or sleep apnea. Both of these problems can indicate an issue with the child’s airway.
- Limit-setting sleep disorder. This disorder might cause a child to wake before they have gotten enough sleep for the night.
Dealing With Sleep Disorders in Children
Treating sleep disorders in children is a tricky problem because you don’t want to resort to medicine unless it is absolutely necessary. If your child is struggling with a sleep disorder, take some time to discuss the problem with your pediatrician. Depending on the severity of the problem, your doctor may recommend some combination of the following:
- Observing the sleeping child to identify behavioral patterns
- Utilizing relaxation techniques such as a pre-bedtime routine or self-hypnosis
- Making the sleep environment safe by removing sharp objects
- Reducing stress of any kind
Before you make any significant changes in your routine, be sure to consult with your doctor in order to develop a plan to deal with your child’s specific sleep disorder.