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Sleep Disorders in Children

Is your child having trouble sleeping? We all know that restful sleep is necessary to heal and repair the body. But recent health reports suggest that many children in the U.S. are chronically sleep deprived. For instance, in a National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll, researchers found that more than two out of every three children ages 10 and under have experienced some type of sleep problem.

There's a price to pay for sleep problems in children. In a revealing study at Northwestern University Medical Center, scientists followed the sleep patterns of 510 kids between 2 and 5 years old. The study showed that less sleep at night means more behavioral problems during the day.

Other studies have linked poor sleep in children with bad grades in classes such as math, reading, and writing. In addition, some studies show that sleep disturbed children have more depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders.

As with adults, there are all sorts of reasons why children don't sleep well. Some of those reasons are more serious than others. But if you've got a problem sleeper (or two) in your house, there are ways to help everyone, including the parents, get a good night's sleep and feel alert and productive the next day.

Are There Different Types of Sleep Problems in Children?

Sleep problems are classified into two major categories. The first is dyssomnias. In children, dyssomnias may include:

  • Sleep-onset difficulties
  • Limit-setting sleep disorder
  • Inadequate sleep hygiene
  • Insufficient sleep syndrome
  • Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

The second class of sleep disorders is parasomnias. Examples of common parasomnias include:

  • Sleepwalking
  • Night terrors
  • Nightmares
  • Rhythmic movement disorders such as head banging or rocking


What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a disruption of the sleep cycle that includes difficulties with getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and possibly early morning awakenings. In children, insomnia can last a few nights or can be long term, lasting weeks. Children with sleep anxiety may have insomnia. Other insomnia triggers include daily or chronic stress, pain, or mental health issues.

If your child has insomnia, here are things you can do:

  • Try to identify stressors. For example, additional homework, problems with friends, or a move to a new neighborhood can cause nighttime anxiety.
  • Establish a regular bedtime routine that allows your child time to relax before the lights go out.
  • If insomnia continues, talk to your child's doctor about ways to resolve the problem.


What Does It Mean if a Child Snores Loudly?

Slightly more than one out of every 10 children snore habitually. Snoring can be caused by different problems. For example, chronic nasal congestion, enlarged adenoids, or huge tonsils that block the airway can all cause snoring.

With snoring, the muscles supporting the opening of the upper airway in the back of the child's throat relax during sleep. Extra tissue in the palate and uvula -- the fleshy piece that hangs from the roof of the mouth -- vibrates with each breath. These vibrations actually cause the sound we call "snoring." In some children, there is a tendency for the airway to close at any point along this area. Narrowing of the airway causes turbulence and the noises of snoring.

Snoring can be harmless. But it can also result in poor quality of sleep and changes in the child's sleep-wake cycle. Because of restless sleep and frequent awakenings, there is diminished daytime alertness. That can lead to dramatic alterations in mood and energy. A few children who snore may have a more serious problem called obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

WebMD Medical Reference

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