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.

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Children's Health Pictures Slideshow: Top Reasons Your Child Can't Sleep

Sleep Apnea symptoms in children

Sleep apnea is an extremely serious sleep pathology in which the child will struggle to breath and possibly stop breathing. This process most commonly is a consequence of an enlarged tonsil and adenoid tissues that obstruct the child's upper airway. Parents of such children will report that it sounds as if their child is being choked during sleep. Complications of sleep apnea include reduced oxygen to the brain and strain of the right side of the heart. If you believe your child may have sleep apnea, you should discuss your concerns with your child's pediatrician. An evaluation by and ENT (ears-nose-throat) specialist is often indicated. It is helpful to either audio/video record such an episode prior to such an evaluation.

Parasomnia symptoms in children

Parasomnias are disruptive sleep related events. They include several infrequent events (periodic limb movement disorder, restless leg syndrome) and more common events (teeth grinding, night terrors, and nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting). Periodic limb movement disorder occurs while asleep and is characterized by repetitive leg and (occasionally) arm movement that persist throughout the night. The child or teenager does not complain of any discomfort or abnormal sensations. In contrast, restless leg syndrome occurs while awake and affected individuals often describe a sensation of their legs "falling asleep."

Nightmares occur during REM (dreaming period) sleep and thus are more common later in the night. The child acts scared but may be comforted by their parents. Such children will often be able to remember their dream. Simple parental reassurance and comforting is effective. In contrast, night terrors occur in non-REM sleep and thus generally within the first 4 hours of sleep. The child may become very violent with crying out in a confused manner as well as thrashing of arms and legs. Routine comforting of the child is not helpful and the child will be confused and bewildered if awakened. Generally, the child will rapidly return to a "normal" sleep with no memory of the events in the morning.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/18/2015

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