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What are the Symptoms of Sleep Disorder in Children?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many of the symptoms of sleep disorder in children are similar to those in adults. They may have trouble falling or staying asleep, experience frequent nighttime waking, and feel tired during the day. Since children often have a hard time explaining symptoms to parents, the main symptoms which may be noticed initially can include crankiness, frequently coming into the parent’s room at night, trouble at school, and lack of focus. The exact symptoms may also depend on the age of the child and the disorder.

Very young children may exhibit different symptoms of sleep disorder than an adult would. Toddlers and preschoolers may begin waking the parents in the night or acting out more during the day. School-aged children may complain of being tired during the day, and schoolwork may suffer over time. These symptoms are most common with disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.

Older children and teens can likely explain in better detail the symptoms of sleep disorder they may be having. No matter what the age, if a child seems to wake more often at night or seems tired during the day, a doctor should be consulted to rule out one or more sleep disorders.

Many times, symptoms of sleep disorder in children are caused by stress or anxiety. This can often be alleviated by evaluating the child’s home life and determining the source of stress. This could be trouble at school, a new sibling, moving to a new home, or the death of a pet or loved one. Allowing children to discuss their feelings about major life changes may alleviate sleep disorder symptoms, although sometimes a medical condition is to blame.

Infants are prone to a condition known as sleep apnea. This refers to the cessation of breathing for several seconds at a time during sleep. Most babies grow out of this, but in severe cases it may persist into the toddler years. Some infants with severe cases where breathing has not started back on its own or who stop breathing for extended periods, may require a monitor to alert parents if breathing ceases for more than a set interval.

Sometimes symptoms of sleep disorder in children may be caused by another underlying medical condition. If problems persist for more than two weeks, a doctor should be notified to determine the cause. Many disorders are temporary and subside as the child grows older, but some may need to be treated with medication.

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