Terror in the Night: Kids and Sleep Problems

The long, dark night can be a scary time for children. Add some childhood sleep disorders, and it can be frightening for kids and parents alike.

You've gotten through 2 a.m. feedings, diaper rash and teething, and you thought that - finally - you could sleep through the night without interruption.

Unfortunately, though, young children are prone to a variety of sleep disorders that can separate them - and you - from a good night's sleep. Here are a few.

Nightmares
Childhood is a scary time. Kids may have a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Your child may think frightening images in storybooks or on TV are real. Those images can return as nightmarish monsters in your child's sleep. Nightmares often occur very late in a child's sleep - usually between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Stress, illness and some medications also can cause nightmares. So can emotional events like death, divorce or the birth of a sibling. One in four children has nightmares more than once a week.

How you can help:

  • Monitor what your child watches on TV.
  • Read a bedtime story.
  • Play quiet music as your child falls asleep.
  • Use a nightlight or leave the bedroom door open.
  • Let your child sleep with a favorite stuffed toy or blanket.
  • Follow a bedtime routine. Make sure bedtime and wakeup times are the same each day.
  • Talk with your child about the nightmares. Keep a journal.
  • If nightmares become frequent, talk to your doctor.

Night terrors
Night terrors typically happen during deep sleep - usually between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. They are most common in boys between 5 and 7 years of age. Your child may suddenly sit or stand in bed and scream. Your child's pupils will be dilated and he or she may sweat, kick, hit, punch or wave at an imagined object. Your child may stare, but won't respond to anything you say.

Here's what you can do to help:

  • Protect your child from injury and wait it out until your child falls asleep.
  • Keep a sleep diary for your child. Include foods your child ate, TV shows he or she watched and anything that may be important.
  • If night terrors happen regularly, fully awaken your child about 15 minutes before they usually occur. Let your child fall back to sleep after five minutes.
  • See your doctor if the problem persists.

Sleepwalking
Sleepwalking occurs during deep sleep. Your child may look awake, but will appear dazed and confused. Sometimes your child will speak, but the words won't make sense.

About one third of children with night terrors also walk in their sleep. More boys than girls tend to sleepwalk. Some children sleepwalk several times a week. It is commonly caused by an immature nervous system or by stress. Children usually outgrow sleepwalking by age 13.

How to help:

  • Keep a sleep diary to pinpoint what may be causing your child's sleepwalking.
  • Play it safe. Put up gates at stairways. Don't let your child sleep in a top bunk. Install a security system or some other device to alert you if your child tries to leave the house.
  • Gently guide your child back to bed. Don't yell at or shake your child.
  • Talk to your doctor if sleepwalking occurs frequently or if you have concerns

Sleep talking
More children talk in their sleep than sleepwalk. Their speech doesn't usually make sense and is spoken in a monotone. It often doesn't last longer than 30 seconds. Sleep talking can happen at any stage of sleep and is common in about one in 10 young children. If it's not accompanied by sleepwalking, it doesn't normally require medical attention. Talk to your child's doctor, though, if you have any concerns.

 

 

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