Does your child have trouble sleeping (falling asleep, staying asleep, waking in the morning)?
What are sleep disorders?
- Generally, sleep in childhood and adolescence is relatively stable. However, sleep disorders occur when children and adolescents have difficulty with their sleeping patterns.
- Difficulties that often may occur in children and adolescents with sleep disorders may include: substantially decreased or increased amounts of sleep over the course of the day, poor quality of sleep, unusual timing of sleep, or engaging in unusual behaviors during sleep (i.e., frequent nightmares or sleep terrors, sleepwalking).1
- In Insomnia, a child or adolescent has difficulty getting to sleep and/or frequently wakes during the night.
- In Hypersomnia, a child or adolescent sleeps for much greater periods of time than necessary, such as having prolonged sleep periods or falling asleep during the day almost every day.
- In Narcolepsy, a child or adolescent falls asleep uncontrollably throughout the day.
- In Nightmare Disorder, a child or adolescent has frequent frightening dreams which cause the child to fully wake from sleep immediately.
- In Sleep Terror Disorder, a child or adolescent frequently wakes from sleep with a panicked yell or cry, racing heart beat, and sweating; these awakenings occur throughout the course of the night.
- In Sleepwalking Disorder, a child or adolescent often gets up out of bed while remaining asleep and walks around; during the sleepwalking period the child often has a blank stare and is unable to be woken by others.
- It is very important to keep in mind that children of different ages require different amounts of sleep. For example, a very young child will naturally require more sleep over the course of the day than a school-aged child or adolescent. It is important that these developmental differences be taken into account when trying to determine if a child's sleep is irregular.
- These sleep difficulties must cause the child or adolescent a great deal of distress or interfere with their social, school, or other important areas of functioning.1
How common are sleep disorders in children and adolescents?
- It is estimated that over 2 million children have been diagnosed with sleep disorders.3
- Further, studies have found that approximately 30% to 40% of children do not get enough sleep at night (defined as 9 to 10 hours each night).3
- Sleep problems and/or sleep disorders may lead to additional concerns for your child. For example, children who have not had enough sleep at night are likely to show behavior problems, attention problems, and/or poor school performance.2
What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with a sleep disorder?
- Visit a mental health professional who can assess your child for a sleep disorder.Click here to learn about mental health providers in your area who can assess for and/or treat sleep disorders in children. If you are outside the central MS area, please click on the following link(s) to learn about community mental health resources in your area: http://www.dmh.state.ms.us/pdf/CYSDirectory-Arial-9-15-08.pdf, http://www.nami.org/MSTemplate.cfm?Site=NAMI_Mississippi
- It is important that sleep difficulties are common in a number of mental health disorders. Therefore, it is important that as part of any sleep disorder assessment, a comprehensive history is obtained to rule out other potential explanations for sleep problems (i.e., anxiety, mood disorders).
- Additionally, at times sleep difficulties may be related to medical conditions or sleep-related breathing conditions. It is important to have these assessed by a medical professional to rule out other potential explanations for sleep problems.
- The University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Program has a wonderful website to assist parents and families of children with sleep problems and/or sleep disorders help regulate their child's sleep. Their website can be accessed at http://www.med.umich.edu/1Libr/yourchild/sleep.htm.
1American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. rev.). Washington, D. C.: Author.
2Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/1Libr/yourchild/sleep.htm, March 2, 2009.
3Retrieved from http://www.sleepmed.md/page/1896, March 2, 2009.