The most common sleep disorders in children

Sleep disorders can occur in childhood and have a major impact on health and child development. Sleep expert and pediatrician Dr. med. Alfred Wiater explains which sleep disorders are most common in children and what parents can do to support their little ones' sleep.

Table of Contents

  1. When children can't sleep
  2. The most common sleep disorders in children
  3. Conclusion

1. When children can't sleep

Sleep plays a central role in our lives and is particularly important in childhood, when we are in the crucial phases of human development and growth. A peaceful and restful sleep is often a big challenge not only for us adults, but especially for children. It is all the more important to support children in developing healthy sleeping habits and getting enough sleep in the turbulent everyday life. Persistent sleep problems can develop into serious sleep disorders at a young age and impair a child's healthy development.

Pediatrician, sleep doctor and smartsleep® expert Dr. explains which sleep disorders occur most frequently in children and how parents can actively take action against them. med. Alfred Wiater

Good to know: In this article you can read about the difference between sleep in childhood and adulthood and here you will find helpful tips to support your child's healthy sleep.

2. The most common sleep disorders in children

#1 Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is most common in children and adults. Insomnia is a non-organic sleep disorder that affects falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up too early and leads to you not being fit during the day. Chronic insomnia occurs when problems occur at least three times a week over a period of one to three months. Around 20% to 30% of children and therefore also their parents are affected by this.

Insomnia in children can manifest itself through considerable resistance to going to bed, repeatedly delaying falling asleep and repeatedly waking up and crying at night. Children up to the age of 5 are particularly affected. In older children and adolescents, insomnia is often caused by fears and worries that prevent them from falling asleep and cause them to wake up again and again.

First aid: Insomnia in children can be a challenge for the whole family - but there are effective treatment options! A consistent bedtime routine and calming sleep rituals are usually the first measures that stabilize sleep behavior and can lead to an improvement in well-being for both the child and its parents.

#2 Obstructive sleep apnea

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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), also known as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, is a breathing-related sleep disorder that affects approx. 5% of children are affected. During sleep, the upper airways suddenly narrow or close, which repeatedly interrupts the oxygen supply. Most affected children therefore notice pauses in breathing and snoring at night. The children do not sleep restfully and often show symptoms during the day. In contrast to adults who suffer from OSA, the focus is not on daytime sleepiness, but rather restless hyperactive behavior with limited concentration and stamina.

The most common cause of OSA in children is enlargement of the pharyngeal and palatine tonsils. Excess weight promotes obstructive sleep apnea as well as anatomically-related narrowness of the upper airways, e.g. b with a backward chin, which causes the tongue to shift backwards during sleep and constrict the airways. But not all children who snore have obstructive sleep apnea. However, habitual snoring could also disrupt sleep and therefore affect children during the day. If in doubt, a sleep laboratory test can help.

First aid: For many children, tonsil surgery can help if the tonsils in the throat and palate are enlarged. If this is not the cause of OSA, early orthodontic therapy and myofunctional support (i.e. H therapy to improve muscle functions) can be helpful. Mechanical breathing support during sleep, as is often used in adults, is rarely required in children.

#3 Sleepwalking

When Sleepwalking (somnambulism), sudden getting out of bed occurs and associated unusual behavior. Those affected are restless, dismissive and/or aggressive and often carry out non-targeted, abstruse actions. They are disoriented and react confusedly when spoken to. There is a high level of insensitivity to pain, so self-harm also occurs.

The highest incidence of somnambulism is 13.4% at the age of 10. The risk of sleepwalking occurring is significantly increased if one or both parents of the affected child are also sleepwalking. For the majority of those affected, the condition resolves spontaneously by adolescence. Lack of sleep, psychological stress situations and also fever are considered factors that can provoke or worsen the occurrence of the disorder.

The main risk of somnambulism is self-harm. While sleepwalking, those affected may fall down the stairs, open the window and jump out, or run into the street. So there can be no question of the proverbial sleepwalking security. Attention: Waking up while sleepwalking can provoke aggressive behavior and, in particular, leads to unnecessary interruption and disruption of sleep.

First aid: Medicinal therapy is generally not used for somnambulism in children and adolescents. The focus is on detailed advice on classifying the symptoms as a developmental phenomenon that usually disappears as people age. However, it is strongly recommended to secure the sleeping environment at home, even in unfamiliar surroundings, so that injuries cannot occur during sleepwalking.

#4 Night terrors

Night terrors (Pavor nocturnus) occur most frequently in infancy and are typically accompanied by shrill screaming and fearful behavior, accompanied by significant excitement. The child usually sits in bed and rejects any attempts at calming down. Night terrors typically occur during deep sleep and may be followed by sleepwalking. The children usually have no memory of the waking episode the next day.

At around 34%, children aged 1.5 years are most commonly affected. A third of children who had night terrors in early childhood developed sleepwalking in later childhood. The occurrence of night terrors can therefore be derived from the family history of sleepwalking.

First aid: Unfortunately there are no direct treatment options. The best thing to do is to have a calming effect on children during symptoms. In order to be able to clearly classify the problem, it is also helpful to make a video of the events and have it assessed by a pediatrician.

#5 Nightmares in children

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Nightmares are characterized by recurring, mood-disrupting dreams with threatening content that are also remembered. Unlike night terrors, nightmares usually only occur during REM sleep in the early morning hours. When they wake up from a nightmare, those affected quickly become oriented again. The incidence of nightmares in children peaks between the ages of 6 and 6. and 10. Age. Almost all children and adolescents have experienced nightmares, but about 5% of them experience nightmares once a week or more often.

The description of the parents or partner and the children themselves are crucial. It should be taken into account that dreams are only considered to be remembered from the age of 3 and a reliable assessment is only possible from this age onwards.

First aid: In the acute situation after waking up from a nightmare, the children should briefly tell the content of the dream so that they can then fall asleep again after briefly calming down. Depending on the severity and content of the dream, psychotherapeutic care is recommended.

#6 Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) describes an unpleasant urge to move the legs, and rarely also the arms. It occurs exclusively or predominantly in rest and relaxation, especially in the evening and in the first half of the night. Usually, but not necessarily, other symptoms such as tingling, pulling, tearing, stabbing, feeling of pressure, painful sensations or sensations that the patient cannot describe in more detail are associated with it. The complaints occur on both sides with alternating emphasis on the sides. The symptoms can be reduced somewhat by moving your legs or changing position in bed. However, those affected often prefer to get up and walk around because this can typically stop or significantly alleviate the symptoms. RLS tends to run in families, but is rare in children and affects around 2 - 4%.

The most common triggering factors include iron deficiency with low storage iron (ferritin) levels.

First aid: First, the iron status should be examined. An iron deficiency and already slightly low ferritin levels can be easily treated as possible triggers of RLS by taking additional iron.

3. Conclusion

  • Children are also affected by serious sleep disorders, although sleep is particularly important for physical and mental health and development, especially at a young age.
  • The most common sleep disorders in children are insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), sleepwalking, night terrors, nightmares and restless leg syndrome (RLS).
  • Parents can specifically support their children's sleep by acquiring knowledge about the peculiarities of children's sleep and, if necessary, seeking medical or therapeutic help.

Greetings and see you next time!

smartsleep Schlaf und Gesundheit Experte Dr. med. Alfred Wiater

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