Sleep disturbance in children


Scope of the Problem of Sleep Disturbance in Children

by Sonia Smith, NP

Sleep disturbance is one of the most common concerns of childhood.  Estimates are that approximately 20-30% of all children have problems related to sleep.  Sleep disorders in children are varied.  Children may present with insufficient sleep due to difficulty with either initiating sleep or maintaining sleep.  Sleep disturbance may be associated with pediatric insomnia, disorders of circadian rhythm, or may manifest as hypersomnolence or narcolepsy with or without cataplexy.  Problems with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) may include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, and hypoventilation disorders.  Common parasomnias in childhood may include night terrors, nightmares, sleep talking, somnambulism, bruxism, and frequent limb movements.

Sleep is necessary for maintenance of both physical and psychological health.  Sleep deprivation has known detrimental effects on both somatic and neuropsychiatric health issues.  Children with lack of sleep have been shown to be susceptible to development of obesity as well as predisposed toward higher body mass indexes later in life.  Consequences of SDB related to OSA may include development of cor pulmonale and growth retardation.  Sleep loss can also contribute to changes in human immune responses.

The neurocognitive effects of poor sleep are well documented in the literature.  Domains affected by inadequate sleep include effects on cognitive and academic functioning as well as emotional and behavioral operations.  Children with sleep disturbance may manifest behaviors consistent with hyperactivity and aggression as well as emotional lability, depression, and anxiety.  These negative behaviors are associated with an increased risk for youth injury.  Children who experience sleep difficulties between the ages of 5-19 have also been shown to have problems with depression, anxiety, and other emotional concerns later in life.

Sleep loss has been directly associated with decreased academic performance due to an inability to remain alert and subsequent difficulty concentrating in school Executive functioning skills including the ability to generate hypotheses, reason abstractly, and process information are also adversely affected when children do not achieve adequate sleep.  Children who do attain restful, restorative sleep have been shown to have higher levels of optimism and self-esteem than children with disturbed sleep.

Emerald Coast Pediatric Sleep Consultants, LLC

Emerald Coast Pediatric Sleep Consultants is a nurse practitioner-owed sleep clinic located in beautiful Gulf Breeze, Florida.  Emerald Coast Sleep provides comprehensive sleep diagnostic and treatment services to children from birth to age 21 years.  A collaborative approach to patient care, with emphasis on addressing biopsychosocial and cultural patient factors, is utilized to determine individualized plans of care.  A paradigm of health and wellness is the foundation for treatment.  The staff also has extensive experience caring for children with special needs.  Emerald Coast Pediatric Sleep Consultants is dedicated to bring awareness of sleep disorders and the need for pediatric sleep assessment to pediatric health providers in the community and nationwide.  Visit us at for more information.

Sonia Smith NP

Sonia A. Smith MN, CPNP/CNS obtained her BSN from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her MN in Child Health Nursing from Emory University in Atlanta.  She has been a pediatric nurse for 29 years and has been a pediatric nurse practitioner for 24 years.  Sonia has experience in primary care, pulmonology, and neurology.  She is currently the owner of Emerald Coast Pediatric Sleep Consultants located in Gulf Breeze, Florida.  Her sleep practice specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders in children with an emphasis on health and wellness.  Sonia enjoys living in the country on a 40 acre pecan orchard in Foley, Alabama, located 20 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico.  She is one year away from obtaining her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Troy University.  In her spare time she enjoys travel, good wine, good friends, and making fused glass art.

3 thoughts on “Sleep disturbance in children

  1. Having a child that has been recently diagnoised sleep paralysis has been incredibly difficult. I have found that him, initially being very young, with the symptoms he had and not being able to convey exactly what was happening to him-has been awful. I’ve been an RN for several years and would ask everyone I came in contact with what did his symptoms sound like or had anyone heard of this and it took 3 years to finally have a sound diagnosis. I wish more people knew how different some of these things present in children opposed to adults. Thank you for writing about this topic! Very informative!


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