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Sleep disorders in children are indeed fairly common, and in fact, many sleep disorders even tend to present themselves predominantly in childhood, sometimes before the patient grows out of it later in life.
Many childhood sleep problems are related to poor sleep habits or to anxiety about going to bed and falling asleep. Persistent sleep problems may also be symptoms of emotional difficulties. “Separation anxiety” is a developmental landmark for young children. For all young children, bedtime is a time of separation. Some children will do all they can to prevent separation at bedtime.
From when we are babies onwards we learn habits of ways to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, some of which can be maladaptive in future years. These habits, though, can be retrained, and this is sometimes a key to promoting healthy sleep in a child, and avoiding certain sleep disorders.
However, not all sleep disorders in children originate from learned habits, and thus not all can be addressed solely through the development of healthy sleep hygiene.
Sleep apnea: Children of all ages can be affected by sleep apnea. A child with sleep apnea may display the usual adult OSA symptoms of daytime sleepiness, waking unrefreshed and poor memory and concentration, however unlike adults with the disorder, may also exhibit hyperactive behaviour (and in some cases, displays of aggression). Common causes of sleep apnea in children are obesity, and tonsils that are too large for the airways, resulting in airway occlusion during sleep.
Immediate and significant improvements in behaviors and mood regulation occur in most children/teens after the sleep disorder is treated and corrected.
When it comes to your child feeling good the following day, the amount of sleep is not always the issue–it’s the quality of sleep. The apparent benefits of 10 hours of sleep in a night will be severely compromised if that sleep is broken up due to some issue during the night.
Bed-wetting: Bed-wetting, or nocturnal enuresis, is another problem that many children face. Although this is all part of growing up for toddlers, when an older child is still having issues staying dry at night it can be a source of embarrassment and frustration. Most children grow out of bed-wetting by around the age of 4 or 5. However, for those that don’t, this may be related to a hormonal imbalance resulting in the child’s bladder ‘overflowing’ at night.
Sleep-walking: Sleep-walking (or somnambulism) is sleep disorder that mainly occurs in children, involving the child’s engaging in behaviour normally associated with wakefulness. The behaviour usually ceases around puberty. In the majority of cases, a family history of sleep-walking exists. A child may respond to questions while sleep-walking, however their answers may be slow, simple or nonsensical, and it should be noted that if awakened during a sleep-walking episode, a child may appear confused and disorientated by their surroundings.