Sleep is essential for healthy growth and development. Sleep experts suggest that elementary-aged children should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Preschool-aged children should sleep about 11 to 13 hours a night.
However, many children in the U.S. suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. In a National Sleep Foundation poll, researchers found that more than 2 out of every 3 children ages 10 and under have experienced some type of sleep problem. Insufficient sleep in children is linked to mood and behavioral problems, memory, concentration and learning problems, poor performance in school, slower reaction times and accidents. Some studies even indicate that sleep disturbed children have more depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders.
Like adults, children suffer from a wide range of sleep disorders. Parasomnias , such as confusional arousals, sleepwalking, sleep terrors, nightmares, and sleep talking, are very common in children. With night terrors, the child has a sudden arousal from sleep with extreme agitation, screaming, crying, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils. Like sleepwalking, night terrors seem to be linked to an immature central nervous system and are often outgrown. Restless legs syndrome, which causes a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs that triggers an irresistible urge to move, is not unusual in children 8 years of age and older. And some children even suffer from insomnia and narcolepsy.
Does your child snore? Approximately 10-12% of children snore during sleep. Does your child show other signs of disturbed sleep -- long pauses in breathing, much tossing and turning in the bed, chronic mouth breathing during sleep? All of these symptoms are possible signs of sleep apnea. An estimated 1 to 3 percent of otherwise healthy pre-school children suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
Childhood obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is a condition in which a child has a partial or complete airway obstruction during sleep, often associated with loud snoring and breathing pauses. An estimated 20-30% of children who snore have obstructive sleep apnea. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “All children who snore should have an overnight sleep test to rule out OSA.”
Daytime symptoms in children with obstructive sleep apnea may be subtle, such as, hyperactivity, trouble concentrating, poor school performance, daytime sleepiness, or fatigue. Furthermore, while there is a possibility that affected children will outgrow the sleep disorder, the evidence is steadily growing that untreated pediatric sleep disorders including sleep apnea can wreak a heavy toll while they persist.
Studies have suggested that as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may actually have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and that much of their learning and behavior problems may be the result of chronic fragmented sleep.
Bed-wetting, sleep-walking, retarded growth, other hormonal and metabolic problems, even failure to thrive may also be related to sleep apnea. Some researchers have charted a specific impact of sleep disordered breathing on "executive functions" of the brain: cognitive flexibility, self-monitoring, planning, organization, and self-regulation of affect and arousal.
Fortunately, as children mature they may often outgrow many of the common sleep problems. However, parents with ongoing concerns should seek professional help.