When thinking about the topic of healthy sleeping patterns for children, there is a lingering question of ‘how’ and ‘why’ are sleeping patterns potentially unhealthy for children? As a means of providing factual information, a general background to common sleeping disorders is provided.
As always, parents are encouraged to consult with a medical professional if there is a concern. The evidence within this article are for factual purposes only and not intended for medical advice.
At times, children experience discomfort before and during bedtime. This is normal. However, sleep disorders are generally diagnosed when there seems to be a lot of problems in bed.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is best defined as when a person stops breathing for a specified amount of time during sleep. This is usually due to an obstruction or blockage in an airway. The medical term is obstructive sleep apnea. Over time, sleep apnea has a long term effect on learning, growth, behavior, and heart problems. When children experience sleep apnea, their oxygen levels fall. In turn, this causes the child to experience discomfort in sleeping due to the inability to breathe.
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea in children include the following:
- Snoring, snorting, or gasping for air, breathing heavily
- Restless sleeping and sleeping in unusual positions
- Sleepwalking and waking from nightmares
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleep disorder that can affect children and adolescents. Restless Leg Syndrome occurs when a child is uncomfortable and resists the ability to stop moving his or her legs. Although this can occur throughout the day, when the symptoms occur during sleep, it can then be considered a sleeping disorder.
When experiencing these symptoms, children generally get up and walk around, toss and turn and kick. As a result, the child misses a significant amount of sleep when restless leg syndrome occurs, due to this discomfort. When attempting to fall asleep with restless leg syndrome, children may need to get out of bed to stretch and move around. Children with this sleeping disorder are often sleepy during the daytime and may require additional sleeping time or naps.
Restless leg syndrome may also cause moodiness, irritability, hyperactivity, and difficulty concentrating at school.
What Are Nightmares?
If you have children, I am sure you have been awaken in the middle of the night to re-tuck them into bed due to a bad dream or nightmare. Nightmares cause children to wake up crying and can lead to stress at bedtime. Nightmares are scary dreams. Nightmares tend to happen when children have reached another level within their REMS (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) cycle. The longer a child stays asleep, the more intense the dream tends to be due to the increased stage within the sleep cycle.
Once a nightmare occurs, children experience difficulty with going back to sleep. When a child is experiencing a nightmare, parents are cautioned to look out for the following: crying, shaking, kicking, screaming, disorientation, sweating and breathing fast. Nightmares can have an effect on children during the day, as they may have lost significant hours of sleep the night before.
What Is Hypersomnia?
Hypersomnia is narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is the inability to stay awake during the daytime hours followed by hallucinations and loss of muscle movements. Children that experience hypersomnia are expected to need additional naps, to get through the day. This condition is stated to be rare in children. Children that experience hypersomnia will require additional sleep after waking from 10 or more hours of sleep. Common symptoms associated with hypersomnia are disorientation, a need for naps, slow speech, and loss of appetite.