Children & Sleep Disorders

When you think of sleep disorders, you might think they only affect adults. But children also develop sleep disorders. Like adults, sleep problems in children can have consequences from irritability to a lack of focus at school. Children of all ages, especially babies need sleep for proper development.

Signs of a Sleep Disorder in Children

Recognizing signs of a sleep disorder or problem is important to determine if treatment is needed. Keep in mind, not all sleep problems require treatment. For example, if your little one is sleepwalking, it might not be anything to be concerned about. In other cases, sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, can have health consequences and treatment is needed.

Consider the following signs and symptoms that may indicate your child has a sleep problem or disorder:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Difficulty concentrating at school
  • Frequent waking during the night
  • Snoring
  • Pauses in breathing or gasps while sleeping

Types of Sleep Disorders in Children

Below are a few common sleep problems, which may occur in children.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

Sleep Apnea in children

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing throughout the night while sleeping. The pauses are brief, usually only lasting a couple of seconds. But OSA prevents your child from getting the rest they need. A lack of quality sleep can affect school performance, mood and behavior.

OSA in children may be caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids that obstruct the airway during sleep. Structural abnormalities involving the tongue can also lead to sleep apnea. Fat around the neck and throat may narrow the airway, so children who are overweight are at an increased risk of OSA.

Treatment for OSA in children may vary depending on the severity and the cause. For example, in children who are overweight, getting to a healthy weight may be all it takes to treat the condition.

Another treatment option is CPAP. CPAP involves your child wearing a mask while they sleep, which is attached to a small machine. The machine delivers pressure to their airway to keep it open during sleep. In some instances, surgery may also be recommended to remove the tonsils and adenoids.


children sleep night terror nightmare

Sleepwalking and night terrors are considered parasomnias. Parasomnias are not one specific sleep disorder. Instead, they refer to a variety of abnormal behaviors during sleep. Parasomnias, such as sleepwalking, occur in both children and adults but are more common in kids.

In most cases, sleepwalking and nightmares are mild, and children often outgrow them. Treatment is usually not needed unless it’s preventing your child from getting adequate sleep. If nightmares are severe or frequent, talk to your child’s doctor or a sleep doctor.

Bed Wetting

Bed wetting, which is also called nocturnal enuresis, is very common in young children. In fact, according to the University of Michigan Health System, about 15 percent of five-year-olds wet the bed during the night. Bladder control during sleep is the last stage of potty-training. The good news is most kids gain bladder control overnight and outgrow bed wetting.

There are two classifications of bed wetting including primary nocturnal enuresis and secondary nocturnal enuresis. Kids who have primary nocturnal enuresis never got the hang of bladder control overnight. They often don’t wake up when their bladder is full.

Secondary nocturnal enuresis occurs when children start wetting the bed again after they had been staying dry overnight. It’s often caused by a medical problem, such as a bladder infection or an emotional stressor, such as a big change in the child’s life.

If your child in under six and wetting the bed, try not to worry. He or she will probably outgrow it. For children over the age of seven, talk to your pediatrician to rule out any medical causes. It’s also essential to be patient. Getting upset with your child will only make the situation worse.

Moisture alarms may help alert your child when they start to urinate and allow them to get to the toilet quickly. Medications are usually not needed to treat bedwetting. But in cases where older children are wetting the bed and nothing else has helped, medication may be suggested.


Cleveland Clinic. Parasomnias.

University of Michigan Health System. Bed Wetting.

Latest posts by MaryAnn DePietro, CRT (see all)

2 thoughts on “Children & Sleep Disorders

  1. Dr. Michelle Weddle Reply

    Thank you for mentioning some causes of OSA in children. Aside from the ones mentioned above, the biggest risk factor for OSA in children, particularly children who are not obese, is craniofacial growth and development. If the craniofacial structures (midface, upper jaw, lower jaw, chin) are not the right size or are not in the correct position, it also presents as a risk for developing OSA. The easiest way to see this is in children is through crooked teeth, a bad bite, or baby teeth with no spaces in between them. If a child has these signs and is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is recommended that they see a sleep physician trained in pediatric sleep medicine for an evaluation.

  2. Linda Grable Reply

    What would cause a five year old to constantly sleep 18 hours at a time on a regular basis? She only goes to school a half a day, we don’t understand why she sleeps so much.

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