October 9, 2016

What Are The Common Sleep Disorders In Toddlers? (How To Solve It?)


Putting your little one to bed can be a constant battle, especially when he or she is afflicted with sleeping disorders. As a parent or guardian, you get very worried when you discover that your child may be suffering from one sleep disorder or another. Infants, children, adolescent, adult and old people are all susceptible to sleeping disorders. Recent studies estimate sleep disorders in toddlers at 30% and more than a third of school-aged children may have sleep disorders.

Toddlers may suffer from poor quality sleep problems in falling or staying asleep. This is associated with a host of problems including behavioral, academic, mood and performance problems, accidents, overeating and other health problems. Not only do these problems affect child health, but also they can affect family dynamics and parental or sibling sleeping schedule.

Despite their seriousness, most sleep disorders are treatable. Here, I will take you through the symptoms, causes and treatment of sleeping disorders in your children. This will make you able to figure out what stands between you and your toddler's night rest.

A basic understanding of sleep your child should be getting on a daily basis will help you identify sleep disorders. Firstly, you have to understand that sleep requirements differs from age to age. The sleeping age-variation facts are:

  • Newborns within 1 month of birth should rest for at least 16 hours in a day or more. Since they do not have a sleeping cycle yet, their sleep periods will vary to all hours of the day.

  • Babies between 1 to 3 months have roughly the same number of sleeping hours as newborns less than 1 month but with a sleep pattern. They begin to carve out a sleep cycle, which last longer at nights.

  • Infants between 4 and 12 months old need up to 14 hours of sleep daily. Most of their sleeping hours are at night and the rest are short naps in between.

  • 1-4 years old, children should have 12 - 14 hours of sleep. However, they are likely to get less of this due to their play activities. Skipping short naps too will occur frequently.

  • 11-12 hours of sleep is required for toddlers within the age of 4-6 years. Nevertheless, just like those within 1-4 years age bracket, children of this age get a little less of this.

Causes Of Sleep Disorders In Toddlers

Like the sleep requirements, the causes of disorders also vary for a number of reasons. Some sleep disorders often get resolved with time and only need intervention if they are very frequent or/and leads to behavior problems.

A good example is sleep apnea, which fizzles away as your baby grows. However, in some other cases, prescribed care needs to be administered.

Such cases include allergies, colds, and upper respiratory infections, which can pose a challenge to breathing at night. The inability to breathe through the nose can make your child experience sleeping difficulties. Having that at night for a toddler can be very challenging for them and disturbing for you.

Lack of nutrients such as iron can result in limb movement disorder. Moreover, toddlers who have frequent ear infections tend to wake up at night when they do not feel well.

Other times, external factors such as the quality of your toddler pillow, an unhealthy environment and harmless substances like drinks can cause sleeping disorders. These factors are joined in the system by underlying health conditions like neurological or developmental disorder therefore leading to sleep disorders in toddlers.

Treating one sleep disorder can resolve another. If you notice anything other than the ordinary in your child's behavior and you are not sure of it, you should seek medical opinion from your physician or doctor.

Most Common Sleep Disorders In Toddlers And Their Symptoms

Sleep disorders in toddlers are very detrimental to their health and development. Hence, it is imperative on parents and guardian to discover the symptoms early and act appropriately.

Periodic Limb Movements (PLM)

This is characterized by the movement of a body part commonly the legs. Your child kicks and jerks his legs while sleeping usually every 20 to 40 seconds and can last for some minutes to several hours. This disturbs his sleep and might wake him or her up at night. This can cause daytime problems with behavior, learning and excessive sleepiness.

Major symptoms include unconscious limb movement, discomfort in the thighs and drowsiness during the day. This condition is often confused with restless leg syndrome. As much as they occur together occasionally, they are not the same. PLM only occurs when a baby is asleep.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

This sleep disorder leads to uncomfortable and strange feeling in the legs. It occurs when the legs are at rest and or when your child is about to lie down to sleep. They experience an irresistible urge to move their legs and when they do, they feel better. In spite of this, the feelings come back after a short time and could lead to a toddler not sleeping through the night.

Restless leg syndrome symptoms include uneasiness in a child, tossing and turning in bed and walking around unnecessarily. If your child is afflicted with this disorder, he/she will move frequently during sleep and wake up unrefreshed even if they were in bed long enough to have enough sleep for their age. It sometimes occurs when the legs have been inactive for long periods such as sitting still for long.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)

Toddlers who remain awake for at least two hours past their usual bedtime because they are unable to fall asleep may have delayed sleep phase syndrome. DSPS is a sleep problem with the internal body clock. It is also known as circadian rhythm. This sleep disorder wires up your child to sleep later than the conventional bedtime.

This delay in falling asleep further causes difficulty in waking up at the desired time and causes daytime sleepiness. Drowsiness, depression and laziness to get involved in activities also manifests in children affected with this condition.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder related to a disruption in an area of the brain that controls the sleep and wakening cycle. Kids with narcolepsy experience a strong urge to fall asleep at odd periods and odd places. In some cases, Narcolepsy links with other symptoms like cataplexy, which is a sudden and brief loss of muscle control triggered by stress or a strong emotion. Some of these emotions that trigger this condition include laughter, anger, anxiety, or surprises.

Sometimes narcolepsy affects more than one member of the family, but not always inherited. Excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden inability to move, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations upon awakening or as falling asleep, and insomnia are the typical symptoms of this condition.

Sleep Apnea

In this type of sleep disorder, interruption of breath occurs repeatedly during sleep. Sleep Apnea arises when something obstructs, or blocks, the upper airway. This is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Whereas in Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), there is no blockage but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. The most common type is a combination of the two.

The list of symptoms for this condition includes, snoring, bed wetting, fullness of the bladder, sweating profusely, coughs and chokes. However, do not jump into conclusion that your child has sleep apnea if he snores, because 7 to 12% of children often snore while they sleep.


This includes nightmares, sleep terrors, sleep talking and sleep walking. They are very common among children within the age of 2-8 years. This is because this is the age bracket, in which a child's imagination is active.

Your child may have a scary dream involving ghosts, people, monsters or disturbing images. Sometimes it comes about when he or she experiences some stress or is not getting enough sleep. Your kid has a higher risk of having Parasomnia if you had Parasomnia as a child too. They are quite normal and do not require any treatment. Although you might need to see, a physician if they are very frequent and could lead to the child hurting himself.

Signs and symptoms include, night sweats, screaming, heavy breathing, confusion, memory loss and fatigue.

Sleep Paralysis

This is a temporary phenomenon, which occurs as a child goes to sleep, during sleep or after just waking. The child experiences seizures due to delayed or limited responses to brain commands. During this seizure, the child may move in the same way, repeatedly, jerking and shaking.

Eventually the brain restores to normal body function and recovers from the episode. This condition gets in the way of a good sleep and leads to behavioral problems. Symptoms are lack of energy, irritability and mood swing.

Prevention And Treatment Of Sleep Disorders In Toddlers

Lack of sleep can have negative effects on your children's performance in school, during extra-curricular activities, and in social relationships. Nonetheless, the big plus is that, sleep disorders are treatable. Medication treats most sleep disorders while for others sleep therapy for toddlers suffices. Here are the treatments for the most common sleep disorders in toddlers.

Periodic Limb Movement (PLM)

Treatment for this sleep condition may include iron supplement intake, exercises and medications for your child. Medication should include different types of drugs that play a role in regulating muscle movements. Avoid giving your child caffeinated products like coffee and tea. In severe cases, a pediatric sleep specialist will need to examine him/her.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Local comfort aids for legs can be good for children afflicted with this disorder. Massages, walking and other relaxation techniques will help relief your child. A physician may prescribe an increase in iron and folic acid levels. Since this condition is often associated with periodic limb movement, if you wish to consider a medication option, your physician will discuss several drug options too. Lastly, you should develop an appropriate bedtime habit for your child.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)

Improving your child's sleeping habits can help remedy this condition. Change their internal clock by getting them to bed earlier than normal. Their hygiene should be improved as well and make sure they get plenty of bright light when they wake up. Consulting a pediatrician should be the next step if this does not work.


To combat this sleep disorder, develop a good management plan like scheduled naps for your child. A pediatric sleep specialist may have to prescribe medications to treat cataplexy, hallucinations and excessive daytime sleepiness. You should also put a stop to late night consumption of caffeinated products.

Sleep Apnea

Surgery is a common way to treat this condition. The surgeon will need to take out the tonsils and adenoids. Other surgeries as adjusting the position of improper aligned teeth or jaw to create more room in the airways may suffice. Another prescribed method is continuous positive airway pressure ventilation. Contact your physician for more explanation on this method.


These types of sleep disorder do not need treatment, except in extreme cases. Develop plans by making your child relax by using a security object or a daily pep talk before bedtime. Talk to him or her and make assurance that they are safe and free from harm. Leaving a low night light on in his/her bedroom will increase their sense of security.

Sleep Paralysis

There is really no cure for this sleep disorder, although one can take preventive measures. Sleep paralysis can be a sign that your child is sleep deprived. Create a fixed bedtime routine for your kid and make sure he/she adheres to it. Also, limit their intake of caffeinated products. If these do not help, it might be because of an underlying medical condition. You should take your child to see a pediatric sleep specialist.


It is important to get your child diagnosis and receive treatment right away if you suspect he/she might have a sleep disorder. When left untreated, the negative effects of sleep disorders can lead to further health consequences. They can also affect their performance in school, at home and impair their ability to perform daily activities. Here is a library with the best links to guide you on how to deal with this sleeping disorders if you are an adult.

Sleep disorders in toddlers might take some time before you notice. Therefore, it is imperative on you as a parent or guardian to monitor him very well. Regardless of your child's sleep problems, a consistent sleep routine and improved sleep habits will help him/her get better sleep over the long term. You can address many common sleep problems through lifestyle changes and improved sleep hygiene. 

    Caryn Agnes

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