• Reviewed on 8/11
    By Dr. Meltzer

Pediatric Psychosocial Issues: Behavioral Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are common in children and can impact all aspects of a child's functioning. Some disorders are a result of the interactions between behavior, environment, and psychosocial issues. Common behavioral sleep disorders include:

  • Adolescent sleep problems (e.g. delayed sleep phase)
  • Bedtime fears
  • Bedtime resistance/refusal
  • Difficulty falling asleep (e.g. taking a long time to fall asleep or can't fall asleep alone)
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Night wakings (frequent and/or prolonged)
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Sleep-related head banging, body rocking, or body rolling
  • Sleep schedule issues
  • Sleep terrors
  • Sleep walking
  • Undesired co-sleeping or bed-sharing

There are other sleep disorders that can lead to daytime behavioral problems, but may not be considered behavioral sleep problems. Sleep problems may result in daytime sleepiness, behavior problems (e.g., hyperactivity, inattention), or irritability. It is important for children to get an adequate amount of sleep that is not disrupted. Proper sleep hygiene can help promote adequate sleep.


Recommended Sleep For Children

A child’s sleeping habits and number of hours needed for sleep each night can vary depending on where the child is at in the stages of development. Some general pediatric sleep guidelines for amount of sleep needed for children by age range include the following:

  • 0 to 3 months of age need 10 to 18 hours
  • 3 to 12 months of age need 14 to 15 hours
  • 1 to 3 years of age need 12 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years of age need 11 to 12 hours
  • 6 to 12 years of age need 10 to 11 hours
  • 13-19 years of age need 9.5 hours, but it is rare for them to actually get this.



Effects of Sleep on Development

Sleep can impact all aspects of development in a child, including learning, processing and remembering information. Lack of sleep can prevent a child from paying attention in school or focusing on learning. A child’s mood can be affected by their lack of sleep, which can in turn impact their interactions with others.

Growth hormones are released when a child sleeps. It is important that a child gets enough sleep in order to receive the proper amount of growth hormones. When the release of growth hormones is impacted, the child’s growth and development on a physiological level are also affected.

A child’s immune system can weaken without enough sleep. A weakened immunes system can affect a child’s ability to fight off a cold and stay healthy.


Effects of Sleep on Parents

Often times when a child is not getting enough sleep, the parents are not either. When a child cannot fall asleep or wakes up early, one or both parents are often awake with the child. Lack of sleep for parents can affect their own daytime functioning, including parent mood, performance at work, ability to manage the child’s behavior and ability to drive.

Tension can occur within the family if parents do not agree on a sleeping schedule, or disagree on how to manage a sleeping problem. Family conflict can also have an effect on a child’s sleeping habits.


Indications There is a Lack of Sleep

There are some key indicators that a child is not getting enough sleep at night, such as:

  • Difficulty waking after a full night of sleep, as a well-rested child should wake easily, even without an alarm.
  • Falling asleep at school or needing to take naps every day for school-aged children. 
  • Lack of emotional regulation, such as an outburst or emotional meltdown in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Hyperactive or wild behavior.

NEXT: Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene

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