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Sleep disorders do not only affect adults. Sleep disorders also occur in children. Sleep disorders in children may lead to complications such as learning difficulties and delayed growth.

All children will have the occasional nightmare or trouble getting to sleep. But for some kids, problems with sleep go beyond an occasion issue. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, doctors estimate up to 30 percent of children will develop a sleep disorder sometime during their childhood.

Causes Of Childhood Sleep Disorders

It is important to understand that normal sleep patterns vary in children, just as they vary in adults. Not every variation is normal sleep means a child has a sleep disorder. Sleep requirements also change as a child grows. For example, school-age children need on average between nine and 12 hours of sleep a night.

When sleep disorders do occur in children, they may develop for a variety of reasons.

For instance, obesity can be a cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can also block the airway and cause sleep apnea in kids.

Neurological conditions may also lead to sleep disorders in some instances. For example, narcolepsy is thought to be due to the brain’s inability to regulate sleep wakes cycles. There may also be some surprising causes of sleep disorders in children. In children with restless leg syndrome, an iron deficiency is considered a possible cause.

In order to accurately diagnose a sleep disorder, a sleep study is usually performed. A sleep study can be a useful diagnostic test to determine which disorder a child has. But in some cases, a sleep study will not reveal any abnormalities even though symptoms of a sleep disorders are present. When this occurs, the sleep disruption is thought to be behavioral in nature.

Types Of Childhood Sleep Disorders

Several sleep disorders may affect children of all ages, from infants to teens. Some disorders are more common than others. Below are some possible sleep disorders that may occur in children.

Sleep Apnea: Although sleep apnea is much more common in adults, it can also occur in children. According to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, about one to ten percent of children have sleep apnea.

Parents should watch for signs of sleep apnea, such as pauses in breathing when sleeping and daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea in children should be treated to prevent complications.  

Narcolepsy: A small percentage of children suffer from narcolepsy. The exact cause of narcolepsy is not fully understood, but doctors believe it occurs due to a disruption within the brain that affects the sleep wake cycle. Children who have narcolepsy may develop excessive daytime sleepiness and trouble falling asleep at acceptable bedtimes. When narcolepsy occurs, it is most common in teens, as opposed to younger children. 

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: This sleep disorder is also sometimes called restless leg syndrome. Symptoms of periodic limb movement disorder include an uncomfortable feeling, usually in the legs, such as itchy or tingling.

Sleepwalking: Sleepwalking is one of the most common sleep disorders in children. Sleepwalking appears to run in families, but the reason it occurs is not known. Children may be more likely to sleepwalk when they are stressed or over tired. According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, most children stop sleepwalking by their late teens. 

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