Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates

Brenner Children’s pediatric emergency department has moved back to its original location. Learn more

In order to help protect patients, family members and health care workers from the spread of COVID-19, no visitors are allowed at any of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s outpatient or inpatient facilities, except in certain situations.
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Help for Kids with Sleep Disorders

Daytime drowsiness is the usual result when adults don’t sleep well. For children, it may be just the opposite. From after the toddler years until just before adolescence, children enter a phase of maximum daytime alertness that can sometimes mask the need to take a nap. Instead of appearing sleepy, these children may be hyperactive and have short attention spans and poor memory.

The relationship between sleep disruption and behavior has been documented in an English study that has not been duplicated in the United States.

Children, who need an average of eight hours of sleep a night, have some of the same sleep problems as adults. However, they often require different treatments. An evaluation begins with a sleep history and can include an overnight stay in a sleep laboratory.

Sometimes sleep problems are temporary and can be due to stress. Insomnia, for example, can result from moving to a new neighborhood, changing schools, witnessing family fights, or when parents divorce or change jobs.

Other sleep problems may require surgery or medications to treat. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, is a temporary blockage of air in and out of the upper airway. As the body relaxes in sleep, the airway becomes smaller and can be blocked in some children by enlarged tonsils and adenoids. The child will snore loudly and then gasp for air.

Because the frequent interruptions in breathing are linked to irregular heart beat and other health problems, the usual treatment is surgery to remove the tonsils, adenoids or other excessive tissue.

Other sleep problems in children are sleepwalking, sleep-talking, nightmares, night terrors and teeth-grinding. Most occur during the toddler years and will soon be outgrown, so aren’t treated.

Exceptions to the no-treatment rule are children who put themselves in danger by going outdoors during sleepwalking. Also, excessive teeth-grinding may be treated with a mouth guard if it affects dental health. 

Some parents worry that night terrors are actually seizures. This is because a child having a night terror may have a blank stare and doesn’t remember the episode afterwards. A child having a nightmare, on the other hand, can be awakened and usually remembers the dream. While night terrors may resemble seizures, they are usually nothing to worry about unless there are other symptoms, such as sudden bed-wetting, unusual movements at night, blood on the pillow, a sore tongue on awakening, or staring behavior during the day. 

While many childhood sleep problems are temporary and will be outgrown. Parents should consult a physician if they are worried about the problem and if it affects daytime functioning.