Sleep Problems and Disorders in Children

Narcolepsy, Sleep apnea, Sleep terrors/sleep walking and Nightmares

NightmaresThese can be a common addition to a child’s night sleep. They usually occur late in the night and can be remembered the following day. There can be many causes, transition in your child’s life, stress or change. Talking about the episodes with your child can help, offering them comfort and reassurance.

Sleep terrors/sleep walking

These will occur most frequently from 4-8 years of age during the early part of the

night. During these episodes, the child is both asleep and awake at the same time and often has no memory of the event the next day. Waking or comforting the child is usually not helpful as it prolongs the event. Children who have night terrors are usually described as ‘bolting upright’ with their eyes wide open, and a look of fear and panic. They will often scream, usually sweat, breathe fast and have a rapid heart rate. Although it seems like children are awake during a night terror, they will appear confused, be inconsolable, and will not always recognize others. It’s important to create a safe environment for your child if these episodes occur. Stair gates or listening devices can be used to alert you to the movement and prevent serious injury.

Sleep apneaThis is a serious disorder which affects adults and children. It is a common disorder where the sufferer has one or more pauses in breathing during sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes in extreme cases in which there are pauses in breathing during sleep. Children with sleep apnea may snore loudly, experience restless sleep and be sleepy during the day. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, allergies, weight problems and other medical problems may contribute to sleep apnea.

NarcolepsyA disorder often first noticed in puberty, but may occur as early as ten years of age. Children with narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable “sleep attacks,” even when they get enough sleep.It is advised to visit your doctor if your child is experiencing any symptoms related to these disorders.

What the experts say:

One respected researcher stated in 2008 that “more than 2/3 of all children having some kind of sleep problem”1and Australian researchers say almost 25% of six and seven year olds have trouble sleeping.2Another respected expert with extensive experience in the school systems of the United States has stated that “Physicians and psychologists estimate that as many as 30% of children may have a sleep disorder at some point during childhood”.3

1. Breus, Michael J, PhD, MD, “Back to School, Back to Sleep: Fixing your children’s sleep problems may improve their grades and their behaviour,”

2. Quach, Jon, BSc, Hiscock, Harriet, MD, Canterford, Louise, GDipSci(Stats), Wake, Melissa, MD “Outcomes of Child Sleep Problems Over the School-Transition Period: Australian Population Longitudinal Study,” PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 5 May 2009, pp. 1287-1292 (doi:10.1542/peds.2008-1860.

3. Dawson, Peg, EdD, NCSP, “Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Information for Parents and Educators”, National Association of School Psychologists, Bethesda, MD, USA, 2004

In Short: Kids need sleep just as much as they need food and milk. And relatedly, the side effects of to little sleep can make a child’s life quite difficult

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Posts from the Harvey Norman blog team.

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