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Sleep Problems Among Children: Warning Signs And Therapies

By working with a medical professional, you can take the necessary steps to improve your child's sleep and overall well-being.

Written by Tavishi Dogra |Updated : March 17, 2023 8:28 PM IST

Sleep Disorders In Children: Adults and children require sleep as part of their daily routines. Sleep allows the body to restore its normal processes, promote physical growth, support mental development, and conserve energy. Unfortunately, sleep disturbances affect up to 50% of children, according to a study published in 2014 in the American journal of family medicine. Of these, 4% of cases are formally diagnosed with sleep disorders. The most common consequence of inadequate sleep in adults is excessive daytime sleepiness. However, in children, presentations with excessive daytime sleepiness are less common. Instead, they more often present with irritability, behavioural problems, learning difficulties, motor vehicle crashes in teenagers and poor academic performance.

Moreover, sleep disruptions in children can result in cognitive and emotional challenges, often affecting family dynamics. Therefore, the presentation in children is atypical, and early recognition and management play a pivotal role. Sleep disorders, also known as sleep-wake disorders, are defined by the American Psychiatric Association as issues related to sleep quality, timing, and duration. Dr Suhas HS,

Consultant Pulmonologist, Manipal Hospital Sarjapur, roughly classified into:

  1. Restless leg syndrome (up to 4% of cases)
  2. Obstructive sleep apnoea (2-5% cases)
  3. Childhood insomnia (10% 30%)
  4. Parasomnias (up to 50% of cases)

Warning signs of sleep disorders in children by Dr Suhas HS:

  1. Feelings of anxiety related to bedtime and sleep prevent the child from falling or staying asleep.
  2. Uncontrollable urge to move their legs that gets worse at night and disrupts their sleep
  3. Resistance to sleep, taking a long time to fall asleep, and frequent nighttime waking
  4. Early detection of symptoms and prompt doctor visits help resolve the problems.
  5. Excessive irritability reduces academic performance
  6. Snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness
  7. Teeth grinding

sleep problems

Therapy Often Includes:

  1. Identifying the issue and addressing it adequately. Obstructive sleep apnea in children may often be due to anatomical obstructions, and simple surgery can be curative.
  2. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure ventilation) is used for those without anatomical obstructions.
  3. Management of parasomnias involves reassurance, treating comorbid conditions, safety precautions, and parental education.

Dr Suhas HS Sarpangala shares pointers to help a child with sleep disorders

  1. Improving sleep hygiene: Consistent bedtime, encouraging daily exercise, and limiting screen time
  2. Optimizing sleep environment:dimming lights and avoiding electronics at night.
  3. Promote relaxation
  4. Reducing stressors

When To Meet Doctors?

Identifying whether a child is experiencing a sleep disorder or is simply restless can be challenging. However, conversing with them in the morning after a night of poor sleep can help determine this. If your child recalls a nightmare, reassuring them that the images are not authentic is essential. On the other hand, if your child cannot recall incidents such as sleepwalking or night terrors, it may require professional attention. In such cases, talking to a healthcare professional about these events or if your attempts to improve your child's sleep have been ineffective is necessary. It's essential to feel comfortable speaking with a doctor anytime you have concerns about your child's sleep. If your efforts to enhance your child's sleep have not yielded positive results, a doctor can provide valuable guidance.

Specifically, your doctor or a paediatric sleep specialist can:

  1. Diagnose any underlying medical conditions that may be affecting your child's sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea
  2. If necessary, the doctor will refer you to another specialist, such as a pulmonologist or ENT specialist
  3. Help create a plan for enhancing your child's sleep quality that can be implemented at home

By working with a medical professional, you can take the necessary steps to improve your child's sleep and overall well-being.

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