Sleep Disorders in Toddlers

Usually, 60% to 70% of toddlers are able to fall asleep by themselves by the time they are a year old. You may also observe signs of tachycardia or tachypnea to a certain extent. Even though snoring itself is not harmful, it is an indicator that something is wrong which needs to be addressed. If your toddler often wakes up in the night, screaming or crying, terrified or shocked, is clueless/confused about his surroundings or seems disoriented every time that he wakes up at night, he may be suffering from a sleep disorder. Primary enuresis may have its root in the family history. Secondary Enuresis: This is when your child has gone through a “dry spell” and has started bedwetting again after having stopped it completely. The two main causes of sleep disorders in toddlers are:Faulty/Defective Genes An immature Nervous System These are generally detected by observing abnormalities in Polysomnography or PSG tests conducted on the toddler.


Although snoring is often dismissed as a harmless condition, it is far from being that. Some frequently seen examples are:

Night awakenings Grinding of teeth Bedtime resistance/Restlessness Unusual/Uncomfortable sleeping positions Cycling/Twitching/Jerking during sleep Night sweats Most newborn babies cry if they wake up during the night and find comfort only after a parental response. If it happens only at night, the chances are that your toddler is just soothing himself to sleep. Such disorders make the child sit up in bed with his eyes wide open. It is a very common problem in toddlers. This mask allows the airway to open up to bring about normal rhythm of breathing. Night terrors occur between the ages of 3-8. Head Banging and Rocking

Head banging usually makes an appearance around the 1 year mark, and is usually at its worst between the 1st and 2nd years. The child may cry inconsolably for a long time before falling asleep again. This condition makes the child wake up in the middle of the night and sit bolt upright, due to terror. To prevent toddlers from head banging, try rocking them more before putting them in bed, singing lullabies, rubbing their backs soothingly, and playing calm and soft music in their room while they are trying to sleep. Try figuring out if your child is having any problems, and try to eliminate these problems. Sleepwalkers face physical threats, like walking into doors and pillars or falling down a flight of stairs. Snoring, breathing through mouth and difficulty in breathing are some of the symptoms of sleep apnea. These are episodic in nature and occur 90 minutes into sleep. But do babies always sleep as soundly as we think they do? Babies, too, may sometimes have disruptive sleeping patterns. But if your toddler is snoring on a regular basis, it could indicate an underlying problem. Speech is mumbled and slurred. Although a little head banging/rocking at night is not really unusual and alarming, if it persists for several months without showing any signs of letting up, or if it seen during the day as well, then it needs to be checked out. Lack of sleep, in itself, can lead to many other problems in toddlers. Snoring could be an indication of a respiratory problem, excessive mucus formation leading to blocked noses causing snoring, OSAS (obstructive sleep apnea syndrome), blockages in the respiratory tract, etc. Head banging can be a rhythmic activity that the child requires to help him get to sleep. So timely action is required to ensure that your tiny tot indeed “sleeps like a baby”!

‘Sleeping like a baby’ is synonymous with sleeping soundly and without worries. The other way of dealing with sleep apnea in toddlers is to use continuous positive airway pressure machine or CPAP, which is a type of mask. They usually arise from stress or fatigue, which needs to eliminated by careful observation of the child’s environment. Sleep disorders in toddlers require different treatments and treatment methods as compared to adults. Sleep apnea in toddlers may lead to problems in growth, learning and behavior. It is very important that this condition be brought to the attention of the doctor immediately.


Bedwetting is also known as nocturnal enuresis. While intervening with sleepwalkers, parents should refrain from shaking or slapping the child to bring him into a state of consciousness. Removal of tonsils/adenoids will provide your child relief from sleep apnea. Allergies can also trigger sleep apnea in children. Hence, the sooner it is treated the better.. The ‘rocking’ motion is comforting for him, and makes him feel safe and secure. Secondary enuresis is usually caused due to developmental problems. Nocturnal sleep enuresis can be solved by making the child use the bathroom before the parents go to bed or limiting fluid intake before sleeping. Although his eyes are open, the child cannot see. Sleep disorders in toddlers, although differing in severity, are very common. Maintain a diary of the time your child wakes up, what he/she talks and how long the episode lasts, and then consult a doctor. While the child is sleeping at night, the airways may get temporarily blocked, preventing air from reaching the lungs, resulting in mouth-breathing, gasping, and chocking. Most times, snoring occurs when toddlers are suffering from a common cold, in which case it is not cause for alarm. Sleep disorders diminish as the child grows, but if they don’t then it is better to seek treatment than to let the problem sort out by itself. Once you have an established time, try waking up your child 10 – 15 minutes prior to it, and make him stay awake for sometime.

Secondary Sleep Disturbances

Secondary sleep disturbances are more common in toddlers than the above listed sleep disorders. It is classified into two types:

Primary Enuresis: This is when your child has never had a “dry spell”, and has been bedwetting since infancy. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids are the main causes of sleep apnea in toddlers. If after doing this for a few weeks, the head banging/rocking doesn’t reduce, consult the doctor.

Night Terrors

Night terrors are also known as pavor nocturnus. Toddlers need around 10 hours of sleep on a daily basis. If bedwetting still persists by age 10, it is time to go to the doctor.

Sleepwalking and Sleeptalking

Sleepwalking (somnambulism) and sleeptalking (somniloquy) is more frequently seen in boys than in girls. Alternately, you can also try waking your child up a couple of times at night to make him go to the toilet, so that he has no reason to wet the bed.

Bedwetting is generally caused due to stress or emotional distress. Sleep apnea can be very harmful and potentially fatal if not detected and treated on time. Night terrors are different from nightmares, and the two should not be confused.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea affects 1-3% children

Elise Hawkins

Elise Hawkins

Going to horse racing events on Sunday used to be something that only the elite class of society was able to do. It used to be an activity where men would go with their male friends, their wives and sometimes their business associates to enjoy an afternoon of horse racing.
Elise Hawkins

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