children sleep problems


A sleep study done either at home, or in a dedicated sleep unit such as St John of God in Murdoch will be able to determine whether a sleep disorder is present.

Sleep disorders are common, affecting about one third of all school-aged children.

Young children’s sleep disorders will likely affect the household’s sleep quality and overall energy levels.

Lack of good quality sleep in children or adolescents may impact growth, school performance, memory, mood and behaviour.

How do I know my child has a sleep disorder?

– Difficulty settling into sleep at a reasonable bedtime

– Waking often during the night (older than two years) or excessive restlessness

– Tired upon waking

– Loud snoring, gasping or difficulty breathing

– Morning headaches

A sleep study in a dedicated sleep unit such as St John of God in Murdoch will be able to determine whether a sleep disorder is present.

What are the most common sleep disorders?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome:

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can cause snoring or breathing difficulties by blocking airways.

An Ear Nose and Throat specialist can perform a surgical procedure to remove these.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) / Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD):

RLS describes discomfort such as tingling or prickling in the legs close to bedtime.

Movement in the legs relieves this temporarily and as such, sufferers will have an irresistible urge to move or walk.

PLMD is a similar movement of the legs but occurs during sleep.

Massaging the legs, a hot bath or an iron level test may help.


Parasomnias describe a group of psychological symptoms such as sleep walking or talking, nightmares, or sleep terrors.

This is generally not a concern unless these are a risk to the child’s safety, ongoing or very disruptive.

How much sleep do kids need?

Newborns to 3 months: 14-17 hours

Infants to 12 months: 12-15 hours

1 – 2 years: 11-14 hours

3-5 years: 10-13 hours

6-13 years: 9-11 hours

14-17 years: 8-10 hours

Top tips for kids sleep

From St John of God Murdoch Sleep Medicine and Paediatric specialist Dr Annie O’Donnell

1. Keep regular times for sleeping and waking to regulate the body’s clock

2. Create a bedtime routine that is relaxing, avoiding anything stressful

3. Make the room dark, cool and quiet. If there is noise out of your control, try white noise such as a fan or calming music

4. Invest in some supportive and comfortable bedding

5. Limit daytime naps for older children

6. Get some sunlight in the morning and avoid bright lights at night.

7. No devices or blue light within one hour of bedtime.

8. Ensure kids are getting plenty of physical activity, particularly early in the day.

9. Avoid stimulants such as sugar before bedtime.

10. Don’t let kids go to bed too full or too hungry. Keep mealtimes at least two hours before bed.

What is a sleep study?

Clinical Operations Manager from Murdoch Sleep Unit Simon Kemp said a sleep study (polysomnogram) is an overnight test that monitors sleep and breathing.

“The sleep test uses non-invasive sensors and a routine digital video correlate results with images. There are no needles and no extra medication is given.”

“Most people worry that their night’s sleep won’t be the same as at home, but a sleep unit can usually gather enough sleep data to make a diagnosis.”

Mr Kemp said patients arrive in the late afternoon with one parent or carer.

“Kids are able to bring along any personal items from home and one adult must stay with the child for the duration of the evening,” he says.

“After settling into your private room, small sensors are attached to the skin of the head, chest, finger and legs, enabling precise monitoring of your child’s sleep.”

“These are attached to state of the art equipment that monitors oxygen levels, breathing, brainwave activity, eye and leg movements and heart rate during sleep.”

“A continuous recording of your child’s sleep is created and provides a precise diagnosis of sleep disorders.”

Results of the polysomnogram are then sent to your referring doctor and a treatment plan is put in place.

How much sleep, and what type of sleep, do our children need to thrive?

In parenting, there aren’t often straightforward answers, and sleep tends to be contentious. There are questions about whether we are overstating children’s sleep problems. Yet we all know from experience how much better we feel, and how much more ready we are to take on the day, when we have had an adequate amount of good quality sleep.

I was one of a panel of experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to review over 800 academic papers examining relationships between children’s sleep duration and outcomes. Our findings suggested optimal sleep durations to promote children’s health. These are the optimal hours (including naps) that children should sleep in every 24-hour cycle.

Recommended sleep

Age Hours
4 to 12 months 12 – 16
1 to 2 years 11 – 14
3 to 5 years 10 – 13
6 to 12 years 9 – 12
13 to 18 years 8 – 10


And yet these types of sleep recommendations are still controversial. Many of us have friends or acquaintances who say that they can function perfectly on four hours of sleep, when it is recommended that adults get seven to nine hours per night.

“In one example, teenagers who got inadequate sleep time had worse moods and more difficulty controlling negative emotions.”

Optimal sleep hours: The science

We look for science to support our recommendations. Yet we cannot deprive young children of sleep for prolonged periods to see whether they have more problems than those sleeping the recommended amounts.

Some experiments have been conducted with teenagers when they have agreed to short periods of sleep deprivation followed by regular sleep durations. In one example, teenagers who got inadequate sleep time had worse moods and more difficulty controlling negative emotions.

Those findings are important because children and adolescents need to learn how to regulate their attention and manage their negative emotions and behaviour. Being able to self-regulate can enhance school adjustment and achievement.

With younger children, our studies have had to rely on examining relationships between their sleep duration and quality of their sleep and negative health outcomes. For example, when researchers have followed the same children over time, behavioural sleep problems in infancy have been associated with greater difficulty regulating emotions at two to three years of age.

Persistent sleep problems also predicted increased difficulty for the same children, followed at two to three years of age, to control their negative emotions from birth to six or seven years and for eight- to nine-year-old children to focus their attention.

Optimal sleep quality: The science

Not only has the duration of children’s sleep been demonstrated to be important but also the quality of their sleep. Poor sleep quality involves problems with starting and maintaining sleep. It also involves low satisfaction with sleep and feelings of being rested. It has been linked to poorer school performance.

Kindergarten children with poor sleep quality (those who take a long time to fall asleep and who wake in the night) demonstrated more aggressive behaviour and were represented more negatively by their parents.

Infants’ night waking was associated with more difficulties regulating attention and difficulty with behavioural control at three and four years of age.

From diabetes to self-harm

The Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggested that children need enough sleep on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

The expert panel linked inadequate sleep duration to children’s attention and learning problems and to increased risk for accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression.

Insufficient sleep in teenagers has also been related to increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Parent behaviours

Children’s self-regulation skills can be developed through self-soothing to sleep at settling time and back to sleep after any night waking. Evidence has consistently pointed to the importance of parents’ behaviours not only in assisting children to achieve adequate sleep duration but also good sleep quality.

Parents can introduce techniques such as sleep routines and consistent sleep schedules that promote healthy sleep. They can also monitor children to ensure that bedtime is actually lights out without electronic devices in their room.

The ConversationIn summary, there are recommended hours of sleep that are associated with better outcomes for children at all ages and stages of development. High sleep quality is also linked to children’s abilities to control their negative behaviour and focus their attention — both important skills for success at school and in social interactions.

Wendy Hall, Professor, Associate Director Graduate Programs, UBC School of Nursing, University of British Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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