Childhood sleep disorders: exams and treatments

Sleep is fundamental for physical and mental health, both for children and adults. However, in the small ones, this aspect is even more important. Unfortunately, it is estimated that currently up to 30% of children have childhood sleep disorders.

Studies indicate that 50% of children have a problem sleeping. Many times, these problems are not diagnosed as childhood sleep disorders because parents attribute it to indiscipline or to an excess of mimes.

However, it is true that, if the child does not sleep well, their behavior and learning ability are affected, it diminishes its concentration and its retention. Your motor behavior may also be affected, make you more irritable and damage your self-esteem.

Because, it is important to diagnose and treat in time Childhood sleep disorders. Let's know more about them in this article.

What are childhood sleep disorders?

Childhood sleep disorders they understand all those problematic behaviors associated with sleeping in the child. They include, among others:

  • The difficulty to fall asleep.
  • Stay asleep.
  • To have too much sleep.
  • Sleep at inappropriate times
  • Do something abnormal during sleep.

Strictly speaking, Children's sleep disorders are discussed when these two circumstances occur:

  • The difficulties with sleep Significantly affect daily performance of the child.
  • The difficulties with sleep they generate problems in relationships family, school and social in general.

It is normal for a child to alter his regular sleep pattern when an unusual event occurs. For example, a loss, a family conflict, etc. However, in a short time, it returns to normal. If this is maintained, we can talk about a sleep disorder in children.


The main disorders of children's sleep They are classified as follows:

  • Disomnia. They include:
    • Narcolepsy.
    • Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS).
    • Syndrome of periodic movements of the legs.
    • Environmental sleep disorder.
    • Delayed sleep onset phase.
    • Disruption of the establishment of limits.
    • Disorder of the associations at the beginning of the dream.
  • Parasomnia. They include:
    • Confusional awakenings
    • Somnambulism.
    • Night terrors.
    • Rhythmic movements of sleep.
    • Somniloquia.
    • Nightmares.
    • Other parasomnias:
      • Bruxism
      • Enuresis.
      • Myoclonus of sleep.
      • Primary snoring.
      • Apnea of ​​the infant.
      • Sudden death of the infant

You may be interested: Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome in children

Diagnostic tests

Parents may suspect the presence of childhood sleep disorders when the child has trouble falling asleep, They snore or breathe with difficulty when they are asleep, they are restless while they sleep, wet the bed or show a lot of drowsiness.

The data that the parents provide are fundamental for the diagnosis, which initially is based on that information. From the clinical history it is probable that some examinations are ordered like the following ones:

  • Polysomnography. It is the most complete of the exams to diagnose childhood sleep disorders. Monitor brain, cardiac, respiratory and muscular activity while the child sleeps.
  • Polygraphy. It is a method that allows a home monitoring of the child's sleep.
  • Continuous cardiorespiratory monitoring. It is applied to infants who have presented apnea or episodes of respiratory pause. Monitor heart rate and breathing

It is usual that a blood count is also ordered in cases of excessive sleepiness and irritability in the child. This allows you to rule out or confirm the presence of anemia, parasites and thyroid problems.

Read also: Habits to cope with sleep apnea


The treatment for this type of problems depends on the cause that originates them. It is always advisable to consult the pediatrician so that he indicates the direction to follow. However, in all cases, It is advisable, first of all, to ensure proper sleep hygiene for the child.

To have a guide on this, it should be taken into account that the necessary sleep time varies according to age. Let's see:

  • Between 0 and 3 months, it is usual for the child to sleep 16 hours.
  • Between 3 and 12 months: 15 hours.
  • From 12 months to 2 years: 14 hours.
  • From 2 to 5 years: 13 hours.
  • Between 5 and 9 years: 10 hours.
  • From 9 to 14 years old: 9 hours.
  • From 14 to 18 years: 8 hours.

From the behavioral point of view, one of the most used treatments to correct childhood sleep disorders is the Ferber method. It is a strategy that has high efficacy and applies to infants. It basically consists of creating a series of routines to help the baby fall asleep.

If the parents suspect that the problem has a physical origin, they must be sent exclusively to the specialist.