When Sleep Goes Awry
When we look at infant and toddler sleep patterns, there are often simple clues that explain why a sleep pattern (if it is in place) has become disrupted.
Causes can include:
-Stomach discomfort due to gas or a type of food that was eaten
-Dirty or wet diaper/bed-wetting in older children
-Scary incident during the day
As kids get older, snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea and it is often associated with obesity. Snoring can also be associated with enlarged adenoids and tonsils. Severe allergies can cause swollen nasal passages. All these situations create very poor quality sleep. Other issues that can crop up as children get older include:
- Insomnia due to stress, pain, medical or psychiatric disorder
- Restless leg syndrome which feels like a tingly or itchy feeling in the legs with an overwhelming desire to move them. Medications and iron supplements can help.
- Sleepwalking, which is experienced by about 40% of children between ages 3 and 7. Sleep deprivation can cause this (so can high fevers).
- Sleep terrors, which occur in the early hours of sleep and are often caused by too little sleep, an irregular sleep routine, stress and sleeping in a new environment.
Obviously, some of the above conditions and situations do warrant a doctor's intervention. Also talk to your doctor if:
- A newborn is very fussy
- A child has noisy breathing or problems breathing
- There is clear snoring
- There are consistent unusual nighttime wakings
- The child has great difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (and exhibits daytime sleepiness).
A wonderful acronym to help parents assess the need for professional intervention is: BEARS
Bedtime - does your child have difficulty going to bed? Staying in bed?
Excessive daytime sleepiness - Trouble waking up? Sleepy during the day?
Awakenings during sleep - Does he also have trouble falling back asleep?
Regularity and duration of sleep - What time does your child go to bed and get up?How many hours total sleep does he get?
Snoring, choking, gasping during sleep?
As mentioned earlier, if there are problems like ADHD, obesity (which can contribute to sleep disordered breathing or sleep apnea), chronic illnesses (like diabetes), or an unexplained consistent problem with sleep, then medical intervention is recommended. Your doctor can also help to determine if a sleep study is necessary to diagnose an underlying disorder.
In most cases, children will periodically challenge parents in the sleep department. It's important to realize that in most cases, these short term disturbances will disappear just when you think, "I can't take this anymore." Then you can all sleep blissfully.