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Sleep Disorders in Children

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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.

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?

Some sleep behaviors -- such as 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.

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