Pediatric Sleep Disorders: Tests and Treatments

24 December, 2019
Sometimes, pediatric sleep disorders are rooted in patterns of inappropriate behaviors. Other times, they're due to organic reasons. In all cases, you should consult a specialist to determine what's the best treatment. Read on!

Sleep is essential for both children’s and adults’ physical and mental health. However, sleep is even more important in children. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that up to 30% of children currently suffer from pediatric sleep disorders.

Studies indicate that 50% of children have some trouble sleeping. Often, these problems aren’t diagnosed as pediatric sleep disorders because parents attribute them to an overindulgence of one type or another.

However, it’s true that not sleeping well affects a child’s behavior and learning ability, and also reduces their concentration and retentiveness. Not enough sleep can also affect their motor behavior, as well as making them more irritable and harming their self-esteem.

Therefore, it’s important to diagnose and treat pediatric sleep disorders as soon as possible. Learn more about them in this article.

What are pediatric sleep disorders?

A boy who fell asleep in class being scolded.

Pediatric sleep disorders include all sleep-associated problems in children. They include, among others:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Being overly sleepy
  • Sleeping at inappropriate times
  • Doing something abnormal while sleeping

Strictly speaking, professionals refer to pediatric sleep disorders when the following circumstances arise:

  • Sleep disturbances that significantly affect a child’s daily performance
  • Sleep disturbances that cause problems in their family, school, and social relationships

It’s normal for a child’s regular sleep pattern to be altered after an unusual event occurs. For example, a loss, a family conflict, etc. However, they soon return to normal. If the child doesn’t return to normal, then they’re suffering from a pediatric sleep disorder.


The main pediatric sleep disorders are classified as follows:

  • Dyssomnias, which include:
    • Narcolepsy
    • Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome
    • Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD)
    • Environmental sleep disorder
    • Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)
    • Limit-setting sleep disorder
    • Sleep-onset association disorder
  • Parasomnias, which include:
    • Confusion
    • Sleepwalking
    • Night terrors
    • Rhythmic movement disorder (RMD)
    • Somniloquy
    • Nightmares
  • Other parasomnias
    • Bruxism
    • Nocturnal enuresis
    • Sleep myoclonus
    • Primary snoring
    • Infant apnea
    • Sudden infant death syndrome

Read on to learn more: Four Alternative Treatments to Control Snoring

Diagnostic tests

A scared child.

Parents may suspect the presence of a sleep disorder when their child has trouble sleeping, snores, or wheezes when they’re asleep. Also when their sleep is restless, they wet the bed, or are often drowsy.

The information parents provide is essential for diagnosis, which is initially based only on that information. However, the doctor may request some tests, such as:

  • Polysomnography. The most comprehensive test to diagnose pediatric sleep disorders. It monitors brain, heart, respiratory, and muscle activity while a child sleeps.
  • Sleep polygraph. This is a method that monitors the child’s sleep at home.
  • Continuous cardiorespiratory monitoring. This test is applied to infants who have apnea or periodic breathing episodes. It monitors heart rate and breathing.

Also, doctors may request a complete blood count in cases of excessive sleepiness and irritability. This can rule out or confirm the presence of anemia, parasites, and thyroid problems.

You should also read: Habits to Help you Cope with Sleep Apnea


Treatment for these problems depends on the cause. Thus, it’s always advisable to consult your pediatrician so they can decide on an appropriate treatment plan. However, first of all, it’s advisable to ensure the child’s proper sleep hygiene.

Also, you should know that sleep needs vary according to age:

  • Between 0 and 3 months, it’s common for the child to sleep 16 hours.
  • Between 3 and 12 months, 15 hours
  • 12 months to 2 years, 14 hours.
  • 2 to 5 years, 13 hours.
  • Between the ages of 5 and 9, 10 hours.
  • Ages 9 to 14, 9 hours.
  • Ages 14 to 18, 8 hours.

From a behavioral standpoint, one of the most commonly used treatments to correct pediatric sleep disorders is the Ferber method. It’s a highly effective treatment that’s applied to infants. Basically, it consists of creating a series of routines to sleep-train a baby.

If parents suspect that the problem has a physical origin, they must consult a specialist.

  • Lomelí, H. A., Pérez-Olmos, I., Talero-Gutiérrez, C., Moreno, C. B., González-Reyes, R., Palacios, L., … & Muñoz-Delgado, J. (2008). Escalas y cuestionarios para evaluar el sueño: una revisión. Actas Españolas de Psiquiatría, 36(1).
  • Gállego Pérez-Larraya, J., Toledo, J.B., Urrestarazu, E., & Iriarte, J.. (2007). Clasificación de los trastornos del sueño. Anales del Sistema Sanitario de Navarra30(Supl. 1), 19-36.
  • Ministerio de sanidad política social e igualdad. (2011). Guía de Práctica Clínica sobre Trastornos del Sueño en la Infancia y Adolescencia en Atención Primaria. MSPSI-Madrid.