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Sleep Disorders in Children

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What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common problem in children today. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, symptoms of sleep apnea in children include:

  • Nighttime snoring with occasional pauses
  • Gasping or choking
  • Sleep disruption

Children with snoring and OSA often have large tonsils and/or adenoids. Many are obese and/or have an allergic disease. Sleep apnea is associated with the following consequences:

  • Abnormal growth and development
  • Bedwetting
  • Behavioral and learning problems
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Hyperactivity or ADHD

Treatment for children who either simply snore or who have OSA may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Managing allergic rhinitis
  • Nasal steroids
  • Antibiotics
  • Removal of the adenoids and tonsils -- as a last resort

Sometimes, nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is used for children with obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP involves using a machine that delivers a stream of compressed air through a nasal mask to the child's airway to keep it open during sleep.

Are Sleepwalking and Bedwetting Common Sleep Problems in Children?

Unusual behaviors during sleep -- sleepwalking, teeth grinding (bruxism), and bedwetting -- are not unusual among children. Also, sleepwalking is more common in boys than in girls. Sleepwalking may result from an immature central nervous system or from being overly tired. It usually happens about an hour or two after the child falls asleep. Sometimes sleepwalking can persist into adulthood. Because sleepwalkers can be harmed, parents need to protect the child from injury.

Bedwetting may continue well into the elementary years for both girls and boys. While bedwetting is sometimes due to anxiety or other emotional issues, nothing is wrong in most kids. They will eventually outgrow bedwetting -- girls usually stop before boys. On the other hand, although it’s uncommon, bedwetting can be the result of an infection or an allergy.

What Are Night Terrors?

With night terrors -- also called sleep terrors -- the child has a sudden arousal from sleep with extreme agitation, screaming, crying, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils. Like sleep walking, night terrors seem to be linked to an immature central nervous system and are often outgrown. These sleep terrors usually begin after age 18 months and disappear by age 6.

If your child has night terrors, it's important to talk to family members and assure them the episodes are not harmful. Make sure the child's room is safe to protect against an injury during a night terror. It also helps to stay on a regular sleep regimen and to manage stress so the child is not anxious at bedtime.

Are Nightmares Common in Childhood?

Nightmares are the frightening dreams that happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. They are a common part of childhood.

At the toddler stage, kids begin active dreaming where it's often hard to distinguish reality from imagination. Preschoolers and elementary school-age kids may experience nightmares that are a result of everyday emotional episodes. For example, arguments with classmates or siblings, academic stress, or fear of separation can cause nightmares.

Most kids have had a nightmare at some time. According to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, 3% of preschool and school-aged children experience frequent nightmares. The worst nightmares seem to occur around the age of 6. As your child matures, his bad dreams will probably decrease.

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