Girl child yawning while holding a pillow

We’ve all experienced those days where tiredness seems to follow us around like a cloud. It affects our productivity, our mood, and our emotional regulation. Children experience the same thing after a restless night. But for kids, sleep issues can become extremely detrimental to their future health if left unmitigated.

According to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), up to 50% of children will experience sleep problems. If unaddressed, the consequences of sleep disorders and subsequent sleep deprivation can be dire. Effects include sleepiness during the day, irritability, behavioral problems, learning and academic difficulties, and even preventable injurious and fatal accidents.

There are many pediatric sleep disorders. This article will address the most common, including signs to watch for in your children.

*This article does not include preventative tips or recommendations for the conditions thereby mentioned. If you have any questions or your child is experiencing any of these medical conditions, please consult your pediatrician if you have concerns about any health problems you observe in your child due to sleep issues.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is characterized by a disruption of normal sleep patterns and ventilation due to upper airway obstruction. OSA is “associated with neurobehavioral problems, decreased attention, disturbed emotional regulation, decreased academic performance, nighttime enuresis, impaired growth,” and other complications, according to the aforementioned study by the AAFP.

Symptoms to watch for in children with OSA include, but are not limited to: snoring, unusual sleeping positions, nighttime bedwetting, morning headaches, and noteworthy daytime sleepiness (though this symptom appears less often in children than it does in adults). The onset of this sleep disorder most often occurs between the ages of 2 and 8, paralleled with tonsil growth.

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)

Similar to OSA, UARS results in disturbed sleep due to airway malfunction while sleeping. According to Stanford Medicine, “the resulting increase in breathing effort does cause a brief awakening from sleep that is often undetected by the affected individual.” Needless to say, when this becomes a pattern throughout the night, sleep is impaired and the resulting health effects are problematic.

Again, symptoms of UARS include snoring, daytime exhaustion, cognitive impairment, and frequent arousals from sleep. Treatment in children include Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, specialized orthodontic treatment, or surgery to remove tonsils.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Though this condition plagues many adults, it is considered a genetic disorder and affects an estimated 1.5 million U.S. children, according to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. In fact, 1 in 10 people report their RLS beginning in the first decade of life. Catching this disorder early in your child’s battle with sleeplessness may save them from a slew of complications from sleep deprivation caused by RLS.

Depending on the age of the youth, it may be difficult to pinpoint the symptoms of this syndrome, but the signs to watch for/ask your child about are as follows, according the RLS Foundation:

  1. A strong urge to move one’s legs, usually coupled with uncomfortable sensations in the lower extremities
  2. Symptoms are worse when the child is at rest or inactive
  3. Symptoms improve when the child is engaged in an activity
  4. Symptoms worsen at night or in the evening, or only occur at bedtime
  5. Symptoms can’t be explained by another cause, and often result in sleep disturbances

Parasomnias/Nighttime Sleep Behaviors

A parasomnia is any sleep disturbance that occurs while falling asleep or sleeping, according to WebMD. For children, these include:

  1. Nightmares: Nightmares, or bad dreams, usually cause the child to awaken, terrified and confused. They likely remember the dream and can recall the persons involved or the events that transpired, though maybe only immediately after waking. Almost all children suffer from nightmares, as they are a normal part of mental and emotional development, according to Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI). If, however, nightmares increase in severity and occurrence and the child is exhibiting other signs of distress (complaints of body/headaches, changes in appetite or personality, etc.), it may be time to discuss these concerns with your pediatrician.
  1. Night Terrors: The main differentiating factor between a nightmare and a night terror is the child’s recollection of the event. The MCRI states, a child may scream, breathe rapidly, have open or shut eyes, and may even get up and run around. Night terrors usually occur before midnight, when the child is transitioning from a light sleep stage to a deeper REM cycle (meaning, the child’s body is “awake,” but the mind is asleep).
  1. Sleepwalking: gives three categories of sleepwalking (harmless, potentially dangerous, and inappropriate), and explains that this parasomnia can last anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour. Some things to watch for, if you’re suspecting sleepwalking behaviors in your child are: getting out of bed, walking around the house but unaware of where/what’s happening, dazed or clumsy demeanor, a lack of response or difficulty waking. Sleepwalking can manifest as a result of sleep deprivation, illness or fever, irregular sleep schedules, a change in pediatric medication, and stress or trauma.
  1. Rhythmic Movement Disorder (RMD): Sleep-related RMD involves repeated body movements while a child is drowsy or asleep, as reported by Jefferson University Hospitals. Types of RMD include: body rocking (while on hands and knees), head banging (against pillow or mattress), or head rolling (usually while making loud noises). These behaviors are not reasons for immediate concern, but are best diagnosed by a pediatrician or sleep specialist.

Pediatric Health and Evergreen Home Healthcare

Here at Evergreen Home Healthcare, we are passionate about coming alongside families as they care for loved ones. If you are concerned about your child’s wellbeing, sleep-related or otherwise, our array of services are guaranteed to offer your family the assistance, expertise and empowerment you need.

We are committed to skilled, thoughtful, and professional care for pediatric patients. Whether you need around the clock care, weekly visits, or anything in between, we can help you. Reach out today! A peaceful night of sleep for your child might be just a call away.