Sleep and Your Child

Sleep Disorders and Youth

Sleep is key to all major functions of the body.  In children, sleep is even more important for proper mental and physical development.  The ability to form both insights on newly learned information, as well as to develop new insights, is dependent on the deep sleep cycle.  Studies link sleep with the ability to process lessons learned during the day. The area of the brain that controls processing procedural or “how to” learning has also been shown to be greatly affected by the amount of sleep.

Why Doesn’t My Child Sleep?

There are many reasons your child may have trouble getting the proper rest. While natural body rhythms known as Circadian Rhythms regulate the internal body clock as to when your child should be awake and when to sleep, there are environmental and developmental issues that can impact these rhythms.  Environmental and developmental issues can be addressed by adjusting bedtime rituals and shifting task-oriented responsibilities to earlier in the evening. Homework, sports team practices and/or games and sibling interruptions are examples of outside influences that can be controlled. When making these changes alone is not enough, there may be a sleep disorder impacting your child’s sleep.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

Although each child is different, there are recommendations for minimum amounts of sleep.

  • Newborns/ Young Infants 16-18 Hours
  • Older Babies 12-15 Hours
  • Toddlers (2-4 years with naps) 10-12 Hours
  • Young Children (6-10 years) 10 Hours
  • Tweens /Teens (11-17 years) 8-9 Hours

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea disorder can cause serious damage if left untreated. Apnea events are most commonly marked by loud snoring followed by brief periods of breathing cessation. You may hear your child snore loudly and then sound like they are gasping for breath. Sleep apnea in children has also been shown to have lasting effects on cardiac function, insulin utilization and obesity.


Parasomnias include nightmares, bedwetting (Nocturnal Enuresis), Teeth Grinding (Bruxism), Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) or Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), Night Terrors (Pavor Nocturnus), Sleepwalking (Somnambulism) and Sleep Talking (Somniloquy).

Night Terrors may be hard to distinguish from general nightmares.  Usually the child is not aware they are having an episode and they generally have no memory of it afterwards. Sleepwalking and sleep talking are other events that are similar in nature. The child is actually not awake, but may act as if they are. This can be dangerous if the child has access to a stairway or other unsafe area.


Insomnia is most common in teens.  Difficulty falling asleep or multiple arousals through the night are common symptoms. Insomnia is not usually chronic and is usually treated quite easily.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome causes uncomfortable urges to move the legs while lying down in bed. Complaints often are connected with a “creepy crawly” or “tingly” sensation in the legs that is only relieved through movement.  Treatment can include exercises as well as medication.

Sleep Disorders and ADHD

There is a clear relationship between symptoms of ADHD and consequences of sleep deprivation. If your child has any of the symptoms listed below, carefully record when and under what circumstances they occur and bring this information to the attention of your child’s physician. It is also helpful to use a sleep diary to keep a record of your child’s sleep. For a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms must be present for at least six months and must occur in at least two settings (e.g., home and school).

The primary symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • Difficulty waiting or taking turns
  • Low frustration threshold


  • My child has problems falling or staying asleep.
  • Getting my child up in the morning is always a problem.
  • Teachers tell me that my child has problems staying awake in class.
  • My child acts out excessively and/or has trouble concentrating.
  • My child snores loudly and sometimes gasps for breath while sleeping.
  • My child is a “mouth breather”.
  • My child often wets the bed.
  • My child wakes up crying, is inconsolable and sometimes is slow to recognize me or another family member.
  • My child sometimes has conversations that don’t make sense or will perform tasks during the night without any memory or awareness of it.
  • My child grinds his/her teeth at night.