When you think of sleep disorders in children, the first types likely to spring to mind are night terrors, nightmares and sleepwalking. These fall into a class of sleep disorders known as parasomnias.
Perhaps less associated with children and adolescents are insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or frequent awakening, is estimated to affect around 25 percent of children and teenagers. Obstructive sleep apnea - when an individual stops breathing for long periods during sleep - affects around 2-4 percent of children.
Sleep deprivation can cause a number of health problems for children and adolescents, both in childhood and adulthood. In 2011, a study claimed that children who do not get enough sleep are at significantly higher risk of becoming overweight, compared with children who get sufficient sleep.
If impaired sleep in childhood is conclusively shown to cause future obesity, it may be vital for parents and physicians to identify sleep problems early, so that corrective action can be taken and obesity prevented.
Sleep disorders in children and teens can hinder them in school, in social situations, in development and nearly every other aspect of their lives, with the negative impact potentially extending into adulthood. Without healthy sleep, it will be nearly impossible for children to reach their full potential. Parents should not assume children will 'grow out' of sleep disorders.
It is possible that as a child or teenager gets older, symptoms of their sleep disorder may ease. This is most likely for parasomnias, such as sleepwalking and night terrors. But in some cases, sleep disorders can persist well into adulthood. For example, children who have sleep apnea are more likely to develop sleep apnea as adults.
As such, sleep physicians say parents should not ignore signs of sleep disorders in children with the assumption they will "grow out" of them.