Sleep Disorders in Children
Kids are particularly prone to parasomnias. Some can be scary to the child and to the parents, although many are not medically serious and disappear before adolescence. Such phenomena as night terrors, sleepwalking, wetting the bed, and talking while asleep are more common in children, although they can occur at any age. Adult parasomnias such as bruxism and restless legs do not tend to disappear with age. Childhood parasomnias might be associated with separation anxiety but they do not usually shorten sleep duration.
Dyssomnias in young children include trouble getting to and staying asleep. Behavioral insmonia is more common in children than adults:
Limit-setting sleep disorder is one of those things that make lay people wonder about over-medicalization of normal behavior. It is basically when kids stall and make excuses for not going to sleep. This takes the form of a negotiation or parlay with the parent (or caretaker). Kids may make many requests or questions nominally in preparation for bedtime, but transparently to delay getting to bed. They may also act out and scream in resistance.
There is no treatment for limit-setting sleep disorder and parents have their own styles of dealing with individual kids. Many psychologists recommend a firm bed time and say the parents should not negotiate on it. Ignoring the child’s protests is the best course. Some parents install guards or gates on the bedroom door to keep the child in the bedroom, although an obstacle like this poses safety hazards. A short gate that both the child and parent can see over can help provide a psychological designation of a sleep space in the kid’s mind. Eye contact between parent and child lessens the gap between waking time and sleep time. Sleep hygiene for kids includes not letting them exercise much before bed, in an effort to get them to calm down.
Limit-setting sleep disorder is strictly speaking a form of insomnia because it can result in shortened sleep time and subsequent daytime sleepiness. It is therefore considered a behavioral insomnia. The other common childhood behavioral disorder is sleep onset association disorder. Kids with attention deficit disorder seem more prone to these types of insomnias.
It’s estimated that up to a quarter of kids have some sort of behavioral insomnia at some point when growing up. Colloquially called "bedtime problems", these disorders usually disappears when the child reaches age 6 or so.
Up to a quarter of kids with apnea have a behavioral sleep disorder. And preschoolers who snore are much more likely to get hyperactivity.
Apnea is an increasing problem as childhood obesity rates go up, and apnea is a greater risk for developing brains than it is for adults because temporary restrictions of oxygen might stunt future cognitive ability. Researchers recommend intervention as soon as possible. It has also been found that young children who snore are much more likely to be hyperactive, anxious, and prone to temper tantrums.
A survey of doctor visits for childhood insomnia in the US from 1993 to 2004 found 80% resulted in prescriptions for medication. This despite that fact that the FDA has never approved a drug label for pediatric insomnia, and professional societies publically discourage such use of medication. The reason can probably be attributed to doctors’ desire to please parents and show they are actively trying to solve a problem where behavioral therapy strikes many as ineffective or quackery.
Most drugs are not approved by the FDA for use in children (about three quarters of drugs do not include labeling for patients under 18), Off-label prescription is common and accepted practice. The FDA-labeling influences the medical profession’s use of medicine, but doctors are free to prescribe most drugs for any problem they deem appropriate.
Pain and Stress
According to the NIH Sleep Research plan, studies have found an association between partial arousal parasomnias and migraine headaches in children. The pathophysiology of migraine headache isn't understood (and neither are the underlying mechanisms of parasomnias, but it is known that sertonin agonist drugs are effective in many migraine cases.
There are suggestions that stress on children results in sleeping problems later in life. The reasons for this are unknown, but it must have something to do with the development of the nervous system.
Short sleeping and overweight children
Studies have found that children who slept fewer than 12 hours per day are more than twice as likely to be overweight at age 3 years as those who slept longer. Each 1-hour reduction in sleep duration seems associated with a 40% increase in the odds of obesity.
Diagnosis of sleep problems is even tougher in children than in adults. Sleep history and a full accounting of health issues gets to the diagnosis faster, but these are often cut short by the demands of parents who just want the problem to go away and for the doctor to issue a prescription. This is also a detriment to behaioral therapy, which is also expensive.
"O Sleep, rest of all things, mildest of the gods, balm of the soul..."
(Iris to Hypnos. Ovid, Metamorphoses)