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Could Your Child Have a Sleep Disorder?

Diagnosing a sleep disorder in a child is a difficult task due to the ever changing sleep patterns children manifest as they mature. What’s normal at one age regarding sleep, may be abnormal at an older age.

What are some of the common sleep disorders seen in the young child?

Nighttime bedwetting

This is a relatively common sleep disorder seen in the young child. The cause of this sleep disorder is, in some cases, thought to be due an unusually deep sleep pattern which doesn’t allow the child to receive the message that he needs to empty his bladder. Nighttime bedwetting can also be due to an immature bladder. Any time a child exhibits new bedwetting behavior, he should be given a medical evaluation to rule out other causes for bedwetting such as a urinary tract infection.

Somnabulism or sleepwalking

This sleep disorder is seen primarily in the school age child and may be associated with bedwetting. Obviously, the concern with this sleep disorder is that the child will harm himself during a sleepwalking episode. Fortunately, most children will outgrow this sleep disorder by the time they reach adolescence. Until then precautions should be undertaken to protect the child from injury during a sleepwalking episode. Some studies show that scheduled awakenings throughout the night can help to distinguish this behavior. You may want to discuss this with your doctor.

Night terrors

This disorder is seen most frequently in the 3 to 7 year age range. The child may awaken from an apparent deep sleep and exhibit signs of severe fright including screaming behavior as well as elevation of his heart rate and breathing pattern. Sometimes this sleep disorder in a child can be lessened by reducing stressful circumstances in the child’s life and ensuring that the child gets adequate rest.

Obstructive sleep apnea

This sleep disorder is seen in up to 3 percent of children and is usually due to enlargement of the tonsils, causing an obstruction to the inflow and outflow of air during breathing. This problem is often corrected with surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids. In cases where enlarged tonsils are not the cause, the child may benefit from a nasal CPAP machine to promote better air flow.


This primary sleep disorder is uncommon in young children, so won’t be discussed here. It’s occasionally seen in the adolescent and may respond to stimulant medications.

These are the primary sleep disorders seen in the young child. There are also secondary sleep problems in children that may be due to factors such as colic, but these don’t cause abnormal changes on a polysomnography, so aren’t considered primary sleep disorders.

What should you do if you suspect a sleep disorder in your child? It’s advisable to seek medical attention so you can get your child back on track to experience a good night’s sleep.

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