Pediatric sleep disorders alter sleeping habits and change regular sleep patterns. Many sleep disorders can harm physical health and emotional well-being. Children who have a disability or complex medical condition are much more likely to experience sleep problems than typically developing children are.
Sleep disorders can be grouped into three main categories:
Lack of sleep.
Problematic behaviors—such as sleepwalking, snoring or seizures—that occur during sleep.
Up to 30 percent of children and teens may have sleep disorders at some point. For children and teens who have disabilities and complex medical conditions, however, the rate might be even higher. For example, studies indicate that 50 percent of children who have cerebral palsy also have a diagnosable sleep disorder and half of children who have craniofacial conditions also have obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs during sleep. Throat muscles occasionally relax; blocking air flow in the nose and mouth (this is called apnea). To stop the apnea, a child briefly wakes up, which interferes with sleep. Sleep disturbances caused by sleep apnea can produce stress hormones and lead to daytime sleepiness, irritability, and changes in the ways the body uses energy.
Some of the most common symptoms and effects of sleep apnea include:
There are many factors that can contribute to a child having obstructive sleep apnea.
Insomnia might involve difficulty in getting to sleep, trouble staying asleep or both. Some children have conditioned insomnia—they may, for example, need a parent to help them fall asleep.
The most common symptoms of insomnia include:
Difficulty falling or staying asleep is often caused by:
Hypersomnolence occurs when a child sleeps too much or is sleepy much of the time. It is common in children and teens who have traumatic brain injuries or developmental disorders.
Symptoms of hypersomnolence usually include:
Common causes of excessive sleeping or sleepiness are:
Circadian rhythm disorders cause kids to sleep at times when other people are awake (sleeping days instead of nights, for example).
Typical symptoms of circadian rhythm disorders include:
An out-of-sync sleep schedule is often caused by:
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder. It often causes an irresistible urge to move the legs and unpleasant feelings when the legs are at rest. The urge usually arises at bedtime, but it also can occur when the legs have been inactive, such as after sitting still for a long period of time.
Typical symptoms of restless leg syndrome include:
Night terrors usually occur about 90 minutes after a child falls asleep. They include repeated episodes of intense crying, screaming and fright during sleep. Children experiencing night terrors are difficult to wake. Once they wake up, they might not respond to attempts to provide comfort. Night terrors are not as common as nightmares, and children rarely remember the episodes in the morning.
Some common symptoms of night terrors include:
The cause of night terrors is unknown, but they might be triggered by:
Parasomnias are a group of sleep disorders in which unusual or atypical behavior occurs while a child is falling asleep or during sleep. Kids often don’t remember these behaviors when they wake up. Many parasomnias are common in children, but children typically outgrow them by the time they reach adulthood.
Many of the symptoms related to parasomnias are mild, but sometimes they become bothersome enough to require medical attention. For example, unusual movements and vocal sounds may actually be nighttime seizures.
Parasomnias include the following behaviors:
Parasomnias might be related to:
The first step in effectively treating sleep disorders is diagnosis. For example, nighttime seizures might appear to be a sleep disorder—it’s important to understand exactly what’s going on before proceeding with treatment.
To help make a diagnosis, tests for sleep disorders can include:
At Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, your family will work with leading sleep medicine specialists for children and teens. The following are some common treatments used with sleep disorders:
Wearing a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) mask—a mask over the nose that releases a puff of air into the throat, relieving obstructions so the airway won’t collapse—can help. In other situations, surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids helps to open the airway.
Sometimes medicines can help kids with falling and staying asleep. In other cases, behavior changes can help children fall asleep (for example, learning to sleep without a parent being in the room).
Stimulant medicines might help a child stay awake or to feel less sleepy.
For some kids, light therapy, medicines or a combination of both can help to reprogram the biological clock and create new sleeping and waking schedules.
Children who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, craniofacial conditions, epilepsy, neuromuscular conditions, and other neurological disorders often have sleeping problems, too. A complex condition paired with a sleep disorder can affect the health—and quality of life—for your child and your family.
At Gillette, your child will benefit from one of the nation’s only sleep medicine programs designed specifically for people who have disabilities and complex conditions. In addition to sleep health services, your child might need comprehensive care that requires experts from a variety of specialties.
We’ll help you determine which specialties should be part of your child’s treatment. Gillette sleep health specialists often collaborate with: