Common Sleep Disorders in Young Children and Treatments

Sleep disorders are more common than we think, even in youth. It’s estimated that up to 30% of children develop a sleeping disorder at some point during their childhood that might pass or become a permanent disorder. That’s a pretty high figure when you consider the fact that most parents aren’t aware of what a sleep disorder is or how to manage one. Sleep apnea is one of the only disorders that people can commonly point out in conversation but there are many more that impact children, such as…

  • Night terrors – Suddenly intense nightmares (but not like ordinary nightmares) that can result in unconscious thrashing and yelling. Occurs in non-REM sleep.
  • Bed wetting – Believe it or not, wetting the bed is a type of sleep disorder.
  • Sleep apnea – Although more common in adults, children can suffer from obstructed airways during sleep too.
  • Delayed sleep-phase syndrome – If a child has troubles sleeping or can only fall asleep past late hours like 1AM, it might be a sleep disorder in which their circadian rhythm is a bit different than normal.
  • Sleep walking – It is considered a sleeping disorder if you sit up, walk around, or speak while sleeping.
  • Narcolepsy – Hallucinations and sudden incredible urges to sleep.
  • Insomnia – Inability to fall asleep.

The Impacts of a Sleep Disorder on Youth

When an adult has a sleep disorder, it can be extremely nerve-wracking and detrimental to their life. As an individual who has fully grown, you can grow irritable, develop health issues, and become quite a bit groggy in your day to day life if you’re missing out on sleep or if the sleep you do manage to get is riddled with conditions that reduce its quality. If a sleep disorder can be devastating to a developed adult, what impact could it have on a child that still has a ton of growing ahead of them?

Children are obviously going to be influenced a bit more than adults mainly because a child has to deal with various other problems like growth spurts and hormones. While there are some conditions that require oral assistance tools or could simply use the help, most sleep disorders that plague children are things that are grown out of or require some basic type of scheduling by the parents. There are a few disorders that might require medication in case the standard methods of treatment are ineffective.

For example, initial treatment for narcolepsy in children is often to ensure they have enough sleep during the night and to potentially have scheduled naps throughout their day. Sometimes, this is enough to mostly handle the issues that come with narcolepsy at first but it happens rather often that, well, it isn’t quite enough. In those instances, the child will then have to take medication along with their normal therapy in order to effectively combat the symptoms of the disorder. Like most health conditions, the earlier you manage to begin treating a problem the better the future prognosis. In the case of narcolepsy, there is no current cure.

Sleeping Disorder

Treatments for Common Sleep Disorders

You have just learned about the general treatment plan for narcolepsy. With that said, the general treatment plans for the other disorders that were listed above can differ quite a bit which illustrates why it’s important for parents to keep an eye on their children and organize appointments with a sleep specialist the second they suspect there’s a problem.

With night terrors, you need to make sure that the child is safe and secure. In other words, the priority should not be waking up the child or attempting to directly comfort them during a spell but instead focus on ensuring that they’re incapable of hurting themselves. The treatment plan for sleep walking is exactly the same in the sense that you shouldn’t wake up the child and instead make sure they cannot hurt themselves. This can be done by having their bedroom on the ground floor and making sure they can’t find a way into a dangerous situation like having access to blades.

The approach to anxiety-driven insomnia and bed wetting is different. Rather than stepping back and simply creating a safe environment for the child, you need to address the potential psychological causes of either disorder. A lot of the time, either disorder can be caused by a traumatic experience in a child’s life or therapy is usually recommended in order to get down to the gritty details and resolve the problems that have developed.

Ultimately, the tried and true method of knowing how to treat a sleep disorder, no matter how common or rare it may be, is to consult directly with a sleep specialist. People are pretty diverse creatures and the subject of sleep is one of the concepts we widely differ on, with most disorders having the additional clause that the treatment for one may vary greatly from the treatment for another.

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