We think of children as blessed creatures because of their apparent ability to sleep anywhere, anytime in a fast and easy manner. Such thinking is based on personal observations and funny videos on media depicting children sleeping in contorted positions in unlikely places, such as the toilet, dog bed, and high chair.
But parents should be aware that their children may have sleep disorders that remain undetected and, thus, untreated because of such popular thinking. While the knowledge that their children have a sleep disorder can be tough on parents, the comfort lies in the knowledge that most sleeping disorders are treatable.
What’s Normal Sleep for Children?
Before we discuss the signs of sleep disorders in children, let’s first take a look at the number of hours of sleep considered normal for them. Keep in mind that each age group will have specific sleep needs so what may be normal to your newborn will be abnormal for your teenagers.
The normal sleep hours for children in age group are outlined below:
- Newborns (1-4 weeks old) sleep for 16-17 hours every day but their periods of wakefulness and sleep will vary, such as sleeping during the day and waking up during ungodly hours.
- Babies 1 t0 4 months old may still sleep for 16 hours a day but their night/day sleep cycles are beginning to develop. They may sleep longer during the night but wake up for diaper changes and feeding bottles.
- Babies 5 to 12 months need 14-15 hours of sleep daily. While sleeping through the night is already possible, they will need up to three short naps during the day (i.e., from morning until afternoon).
- Toddlers (1-3 years old) have shorter sleeping times, usually 12-14 hours of sleep every day, usually with a nap during the day.
- Children 3 to 6 years old require approximately 11-12 hours of sleep with a short nap during the day. Many schools also adopt a naptime schedule for this reason.
- Children 7 to 12 years old tend to need only 10-12 hours of sleep during the night but due to their school schedules, among others, they will likely get 9-10 hours.
- Older children 13 to 18 years old have lesser need for sleep, usually 8-10 hours every night. Again, due to the demands of their lives, most of them will probably get 6-8 hours only.
If you observe that your children are getting fewer number of hours of sleeping time than the recommended hours for their age group, then you may have reason to be concerned.
What Are the Signs of Sleep Disorders?
You should watch out for the signs of sleep disorders, record them in a sleep diary, and discuss your concerns with the family pediatrician. Even when your child isn’t diagnosed with a sleep disorder, your doctor will be alerted to other possible health concerns with abnormal sleeping patterns as among the signs. In the end, it’s always best to be safe than sorry, especially as early detection and diagnosis are a must in effective treatment.
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
This is a common symptom of narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome, among other common sleep disorders. Look out for signs that your child has trouble waking up in the morning, takes naps even when children his age have already moved past the stage, or sleeps throughout the day.
Difficulty in sleeping
This can be a sign of insomnia, a sleeping disorder characterized by the difficulty of going to sleep, maintaining sleep, or going back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Insomnia in children can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as physical pain, emotional stress, and mental disorders.
This isn’t a cause for concern in itself because it’s mainly caused by normal vibrations in the upper airways. But when it becomes too loud, too long, or too frequent, then you will have cause for concern. Aside from a possible sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, snoring can also be a sign of nasal congestion, respiratory infections, and enlarged tonsils, among others.
Nightmares and night terrors
These may or may not occur in the same child because these are distinctive signs. Nightmares are the frightening dreams that wake up children from sleep while night terrors will rarely wake them up. But in case of night terrors, you will be scared because children exhibit physical signs, such as rapid breathing, screaming and crying, and muscle tension, among others.
Other signs of sleep disorders in children are sleep walking and bedwetting, which are relatively common in children. But when these accompany the above-mentioned signs, then you are justified in seeking professional help.
The first step is in recognizing the signs followed by getting your child to his or her pediatrician. Your child may be referred to a sleep specialist, if necessary, who can then recommend a suitable treatment program. You, the parents, have the responsibility to ensure that your child complies with his or her treatment plan, as well as in providing crucial support for its success including providing them with supportive Sleep Number beds.