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Sleep Disorders in Children

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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, bad dreams will probably decrease.

Can Kids Get Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is not unusual in children 8 years of age and older. This neurological sleep disorder causes a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs (and sometimes in the arms) that creates an irresistible urge to move.

Studies show that restless legs syndrome may have a strong genetic component. Children with sleep tremors or restless legs syndrome may have difficulty falling asleep. That can result in daytime fatigue and irritability. According to recent studies, ADHD and depression may be more common in those diagnosed with RLS. Talk to your child's pediatrician about ways to treat RLS in children.

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