Sleep is essential for healthy growth and development. However, many children in the U.S. suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. Insufficient sleep in children is linked to daytime sleepiness and fatigue, mood and behavioral problems, memory, concentration and learning problems, hyperactivity, poor performance in school, slower reaction times and accidents. Some studies even indicate that sleep-disturbed children have more depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders.
The most common sleep problem in children is lack of adequate sleep. Experts suggest that children in elementary school should sleep 10 to 11 hours and preschool-aged children should sleep 11 to 13 hours each night.
Like adults, children suffer from a wide range of sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which a child has a partial or complete airway obstruction during sleep, often associated with loud snoring and breathing pauses. Studies have suggested that as many as 25% of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may actually have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and that much of their learning and behavioral problems may be the result of chronic fragmented sleep. Bed-wetting, sleep-walking, retarded growth, other hormonal and metabolic problems, even failure to thrive may also be related to sleep apnea.
Parasomnias, such as confusional arousals, sleepwalking, sleep terrors, nightmares, and sleep talking, are very common in children. With night terrors, the child has a sudden arousal from sleep with extreme agitation, screaming, crying, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils. Like sleepwalking, night terrors seem to be linked to an immature central nervous system and are often outgrown.
Restless legs syndrome, which causes a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs that trigger an irresistible urge to move, is not unusual in children 8 years of age and older. And some children even suffer from insomnia and narcolepsy.