Does my child have a sleep disorder?

You've tried every sleep technique going, but your toddler still wakes up regularly at night. Is this normal behaviour, or could your child have a sleep disorder? Here, Maryanne Taylor from The Sleep Works looks at when you should seek expert help.

What is normal sleep? Every baby develops differently and reaches developmental milestones at different times, therefore it's difficult to talk in norms. With sleep, however, sleep experts talk about average sleep needs rather than specifics. While some children need more sleep than others, we consider a general overview of sleep requirements for specific ages as a guide only, rather than a rulebook for parents.

We also consider not just the quantity of sleep, but also the quality which is equally as important. A child may be getting enough hours of sleep at night and during the day, but if this sleep is interrupted and in short blocks rather than longer stretches, this may also be compromising their optimum sleep.

So, what may be contributing to compromised quantity or quality of sleep?

There are a number of general questions to think about when considering what may be contributing to your child’s sleep issues.

Has your child ever slept well previously or has this been an ongoing issue?
Does your child rely on a sleep crutch to get to sleep, ie: your presence, holding your hand, feeding, patting, rocking etc.
Does your child appear to be in discomfort when trying to get to sleep? 
Does your child wake in the night and appear to be in discomfort?
Does your child have a possible sleep disorder?
What are sleep disorders?

There are different types of sleep disorders which are classified into 2 categories – dyssomnias and parasomnias.

Dyssomnias include:

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea 
Inadequate sleep hygiene

Parasomnias include:

Night terrors and nightmares
Headbanging or rocking

How do I know whether my child has a sleep disorder?

Children who have sleep disorders may have multiple night-time wake ups and have difficulty getting to sleep.

They often show signs of restlessness, inattentiveness, lack of concentration and hyperactivity, similar to ADHD. They may be sleepy during the day and show a decline in school performance.

Symptoms may include:

Excessive snoring
Breathing through mouth rather than nose
Pauses in breathing or gasping for air
Sweating at night
Restless sleep
Sleep walking

If you suspect your child may have a sleep disorder, it is important to get this checked out by a paediatrician or sleep specialist.

Maryanne Taylor is a sleep expert from The Sleep Works


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