Regular sleep is among the most important development factors for children, yet it’s one of the hardest areas in which to establish healthy habits. If children are notoriously difficult to put to bed, how can you know if your child may actually have a sleep disorder?
Here is a look at healthy sleep patterns in children, and potential signs of a sleep disorder to watch out for:
How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?
The amount, length, and frequency of sleep your child needs is largely dependent upon his or her developmental stage. Infants, for example, need at least 12 hours of sleep per day, and tend to have irregular sleep schedules. As your child ages, they will adjust to a standard sleep-wake schedule and will require less hours on average until they reach adulthood. Here is an overview of how many hours of sleep are recommended, by age, to compare to your child’s personal sleeping habits:
- Newborns (0-3 months) : 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-5 years): 10-14 hours
- Elementary (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
- Adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
If your child is getting significantly less, or requiring substantially more, sleep than what is recommended for his/her age bracket, a sleep disorder may be at play.
Signs of a Sleep Disorder
It is important to remember that not all sleep irregularities indicate the presence of a sleep disorder, and that the sources of sleep disturbances need to be accurately identified. The first step to rule out a sleep disorder is to establish good sleep hygiene. Good sleeping habits need to be trained and instilled within children; most of whom are notorious for resisting bedtime. Moreover, difficulty falling asleep, as well as waking up throughout the night, are common: the focus is more often on how well your child can return to sleep once disturbed.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that not all sleep disorders are medically serious, and can be treated through learned behaviors. This is especially true for toddlers, who have not yet learned to coax themselves to sleep on their own. It is extremely common that children will experience some type of sleep disorder at some point in their childhood, which usually resolves without medical intervention. Infants and toddlers are prone to experiencing dyssomnias, which entail difficulty falling and staying asleep, with children between the ages of three to their teenage years more likely to experience a parasomnia, which involves dysfunction of the nervous system when transitioning between the stages of sleep. Parasomnias encompass abnormal activities unconsciously performed while asleep, such as sleep walking.
Common dyssomnias affecting young children include:
- Sleep-Onset Association Disorder
- Limit-Setting Sleep Disorder
- Improper Sleep Hygiene
- Inadequate Sleep Syndrome
- Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Common parasomnias include:
Again, irregular sleep should only be suspected of indicating an underlying sleep disorder once good sleep hygiene is instilled and environmental factors have been ruled out. Parasomnias, however, tend to have their peak onset past the age of three and a half years, and are often easily identified through abnormal and disruptive sleep behaviors. If your child is acting strangely while asleep, it would be in his/her best interest to schedule a sleep study with a reputable sleep doctor at your earliest opportunity.