Child Sleep Disorders


Children need restful sleep just as much – or even more – than adults. For some kids, though, sleep disorders rob them of sound sleep, and leave them feeling tired, irritable and distracted during the day. In fact, sleep disorders may be misdiagnosed as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sleep disorders also may be a sign of physical problems, such as a blocked airway, or emotional concerns like anxiety or stress.

Common Childhood Sleep Disorders

  • Insomnia: Children find it hard to fall asleep, or stay asleep through the night.
  • Narcolepsy: Excessive daytime sleepiness, often due to the brain’s inability to maintain normal sleep-wake cycles.
  • Nightmares: Vivid dreams create fear or anxiety, often with physical reactions such as sweating or a rapid heart rate.
  • Night terrors: Children feel extreme terror or confusion, often with screaming or crying, but never fully awaken and usually have no memory of the incident.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep is repeatedly interrupted by the child’s airway being partly or fully blocked, which causes gasping or choking sounds.
  • Sleepwalking/talking: Children walk, speak or act as if they were awake, but they are still asleep.
  • Snoring: A sign of a breathing problem, snoring disrupts normal sleep.

Treating Sleep Disorders

If your child shows signs of sleep problems, contact your Mercy Kids pediatrician.

Our first step to treating sleep disorders is a physical exam to rule out any medical issues. 

Large tonsils, for example, may contribute to sleep apnea or snoring. We’ll also discuss your child’s daily routines and environment, including any changes or stressful events that may affect sleep.

Sometimes, making a few simple changes can improve sleep quality. We can help you and your child take steps to sleep better, such as:

  • Bedtime routines: Make sure your child has a consistent nightly routine that prepares them for sleep, such as taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth or reading a bedtime story.
  • Sleep environment: Create a restful sleep setting. A dark, quiet bedroom with a comfortable temperature will help promote sleep. Electronic devices can stimulate the brain, so turn them off well before bedtime.
  • Relaxation techniques: We’ll address any emotional causes of sleep problems, and share tips to help your child relax and feel safe.
  • Medications: In some cases, we may prescribe medication to help your child sleep soundly.

If sleep problems persist, your Mercy Kids doctor may recommend consulting a pediatric sleep medicine specialist. The specialist may recommend an overnight sleep study (polysomnogram). Your child will spend the night in the hospital or sleep center while wearing painless monitors to evaluate their breathing, heart rate, eye and body movements, brain activity and other indicators of sleep quality throughout the night. This helps us understand their sleep issues and how best to treat them.

We know a child’s sleep disorder can affect the whole family, and we’ll help you all get a better night’s sleep.

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