Sleep disorders in children

Sleep: A basic need

Sleep is frequently considered to be a passive phenomenon, something we do because it is the end of the day, we are perhaps tired and we need to rest and build up our energies once again to prepare for the next day. It is falsely assumed that as the lights are switched off at night, so also is the mind and all its functioning ability. Sleep replenishes not only zest and enthusiasm but is also essential for growth, intelligence, memory and alertness. Children deserve and need restful sleep at night in order to attain their true potential.


Nightmares are better known as scary dreams. Most children tend to have bad dreams from time to time. Dreams in children usually involve big scary figures or animal characters. They usually happen late in the night mostly before waking in the morning. Children wake up, are able to describe the dream and seek comfort from their parents or guardians. The dreams do not worry the child throughout the day, or cause any apprehension usually. If they affect the child’s thinking and behavior through the day, they need special attention.

Night terrors

Night terrors are a completely different variety of scary dreams that are experienced by some children and adults. These invariably happen earlier through the course of the night wherein the child wakes up screaming or crying, not uncommonly sweating and breathing quite fast. Children do not have any memory of the dream and seem quite confused through the night episode. If woken up in the middle of this they seem disoriented and frightened with a blank look. They are totally unaware of the entire occurrence in the morning.

Sleepwalking or Somnambulism

Sleepwalking is a condition that involves partly wakeful movement during sleep wherein the child may get up from the bed, move around, perform certain actions, sometimes even play with a toy, and then go back to sleep without any awareness or remembrance of that event the next day. Sleepwalking is a normal phenomenon in childhood. The child needn’t be awakened while sleepwalking. It is of course important to assure safety and see that the child does not land himself or herself in precarious situations or positions.

Sleep talking or Somnoliquy

Sleep talking involves muttering of words, phrases, or sentences, which in most cases are irrelevant. More often than not children have no memory of the same on wakefulness. Like Sleepwalking, Sleep-talking also occurs earlier in the night soon after the child has gone to bed. The child seems dazed and clumsy and will not answer any questions. It is not possible to have a conversation with a child who’s sleep-talking. One must not attempt to do so either.

Truth about sleep disorders in children

Sleep problems are not essentially illnesses; they are mere aberrations in the sleep cycle

  • Most sleep related disorders are self-limiting but it is worthwhile to get them evaluated
  • Some problems pass with time but warrant attention if the sleep is continually disrupted
  • Emotional disturbances may lead to sleep disturbances though it’s not been confirmed
  • A child should not be blamed or made to feel guilty about disrupting the parents’ sleep
  • An assessment of the child’s emotional state can assist in the detection of hidden fears
  • Emotional turmoil of the day occasionally crops up in the night during children’s sleep


Sleep hygiene includes non-medicinal methods that assure restful sleep and is comparable to physical hygiene. Just as it is important to brush one’s teeth before going to bed, likewise it is important that specific guidelines be followed to assure good sleep for children through the night. Reserving the bed for sleep. giving the child a cup of warm milk or half a banana, avoiding scary movies or books in the night; all are simple non medicinal tips that can help the child sleep better. Different sleep disorders are linked to specific developmental phases in the child’s life, many pass with time. It is imperative to have them evaluated nonetheless and ascertain that we are not missing any underlying medical issues. We attempt to help by dealing with the children’s fears, building on coping defenses and raising their confidence levels. Children usually grow out of these problems without major consequence.

When it’s all right

Your children are OK if they:

  • Go to sleep within 30 minutes
  • Wake up without much trouble
  • Seem fresh when they wake up
  • Don’t have sleep spells in the day
  • Are alert and active in the day
  • Do not appear lethargic or lazy

What you can do

Tips to help children sleep soundly

  • Keep regular daily sleep times
  • Develop some pre sleep routine
  • Repeat the routine everywhere
  • Do not get angry with your child
  • Get physical activity in the day
  • Keep lights dim evening onwards
  • Build on personal responsibility

Frequently Asked Questions

My daughter cries aloud in her sleep. Is she emotionally disturbed?
Sleep talking is quite a normal phenomenon and does not point to emotional problems. Children sometimes cry in their sleep due to a scary dream. If she is fine in the day there is nothing to worry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it right to wake up my child if she is sleepwalking?
Awakening will not help because your child is in deep sleep. She may seem confused if woken up during the sleep walking episode. After assuring her safety and gently talking her down, it is best you quietly put her back to sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should the child be punished for talking in the sleep and disturbing others?
Certainly NOT! Sleep talking is an involuntary process, beyond the child’s control, with no malicious intention of any words spoken so there is no room for punishment here. The child needs to simply be comforted. Also, cooperation from the family is imperative.