Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children and Teenagers

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Quick GuideTop Reasons Children Can't Sleep in Pictures

Top Reasons Children Can't Sleep in Pictures

Can a lack of sleep impact a child's behavior?

The symptoms of a lack of sleep are often obvious to watchful parents. Some of these tell-tale signs include:

  • recurrently falling asleep in the car (excluding young infants);
  • requiring extreme stimulation and repetitive reminders to get up in the morning;
  • behavioral abnormalities such as excessive emotionalism, aggression, and crankiness; and
  • an older child's (over 8 years of age) recurrent need for an afternoon nap.

What is sleep hygiene?

A common definition of sleep hygiene is "all behavioral and environmental factors that precede sleep and may interfere with sleep." Daytime sleepiness and trouble sleeping may be a reflection of poor sleep hygiene. Detailed specifics are listed below. General areas to consider include:

  • Personal habits: Establish consistent routines around bedtimes and awakening times
  • Sleep environment: The bedroom should be a slightly cooler temperature (between 60 F to 67 F or 15.5 C to 19.4 C), and eliminate any distracting noise in the bedroom
  • Getting ready for bed: Establish a calming pre-sleep ritual (for example, reading, not watching TV) and
  • Miscellaneous: Examples include limiting intake of foods/liquids/medications which may disrupt a restful sleep

What are some common sleep disorders in children?

The University of Michigan's Sleep Disorders program includes five issues that may be disruptive of good sleep practices. These include:

  1. Sleep deprivation: As noted in the previously, the amount of sleep generally required varies with age and genetic predisposition. Unfortunately many older children, especially teens, do not receive an appropriate amount of sound sleep.
  2. Night waking: All children after the first 7 to 8 months of life start to be more sensitive to internal and external stimuli. If an infant has not yet learned to calm himself and resettle back to sleep, the parents commonly are summoned to help the child return to sleep. This pattern may repeat itself several times each night.
  3. Separation anxiety: Children experience this emotion commonly at 5 months of age as well as during the toddler years. Such children become anxious and are unable to enter a comfortable sleep pattern unless parents are present.
  4. Resistance to sleep/settling problems: This occurs when your child does not want to go to bed at a reasonable time. Stalling, temper tantrums, and other resistance patterns are common. Parental persistence generally will resolve this common issue.
  5. Parasomnias: Parasomnias are problems that disrupt sleep. Examples include night terrors, grinding of teeth, sleepwalking, etc.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/8/2016

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