Sleep Disorders in Children

Most sleep problems in children and teens are not serious and will go away on their own. Some sleep problems, however, may need treatment by a healthcare provider.


Insomnia means children often have trouble falling or staying asleep or going back to sleep if they awaken. Most children go to sleep within 20 minutes of being in bed and quiet. Teens often take 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep. Insomnia in children is not usually a serious problem. However, when getting to sleep takes more than half an hour, it can cause daytime sleepiness or irritability.

Often, insomnia will get better if you follow a good sleep routine for 2 weeks. A good sleep routine includes 30 minutes of quiet time such as a bath or reading a story before bedtime. Make sure that your child goes to bed at about the same time each night. It may also help to have your child cut out caffeine. Give your child warm milk 30 minutes before bedtime.

Sleep medicines work differently in children and young teens, so they are rarely used.

Insomnia that lasts for more than 2 weeks may be a symptom of depression, an anxiety disorder, or hyperactivity. If you think your child has insomnia, talk to your child’s healthcare provider.

Sleep Rocking

Some children rock their bodies during part of the night. Most rock from side to side, but some rock forward from their knees to their elbows. It is most common up to the age of 3 or 4. Usually sleep rocking is not serious and will stop on its own. However, in severe cases a child may bang his head or body against the bed or wall. You may need to protect your child, for example by padding the wall. If you have concerns that your child sleep rocks, talk with your child’s healthcare provider about it.

Sleep Walking

Children who sleep walk usually start between the ages of 2 and 7 and stop before the teen years. Most sleep walking occurs a few hours after your child falls asleep. They may walk for 2 to 20 minutes and then return to bed or lie down somewhere else. Their eyes are usually open, but are staring and not focused. They may do things like open doors or change clothes. Sometimes the child will talk, but will not usually wake up if you talk to them. Many times your child will go back to bed when you tell him to do so.

There is no special treatment for sleep walking. Some things you can do if your child sleep walks:

  • Try not to let your child get too tired or stressed since this may increase the chances of sleep walking.
  • Calmly lead them back to bed.
  • Some children will not sleep walk if you purposely wake them enough to sit up and respond about an hour after they have gone to sleep.
  • Make sure that your child cannot walk down stairs or anywhere that they could get hurt if they sleep walk. Close windows. Put a bell on the bedroom door.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your child’s sleep walking, especially if the walking happens after your child sleeps for more than half of the night.

Night Terrors

A child with night terrors usually wakes within the first few hours after going to sleep and screams or calls out. Usually the child’s eyes are wide open, but are staring and not focused. The child does not wake up even if you talk to them or sit them up. Often they are not calmed by hugging or talking to them. The terror may last for several minutes. The terror and not being able to comfort the child is scary for the parent. The child almost never remembers what happened the next morning. The terrors usually fade away during grade school years. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider if you are concerned about your child’s terrors.

There is no special treatment for night terrors. If your child has night terrors:

  • Try not to let your child to get too tired or stressed since this may increase the chances of having a night terror.
  • Comfort your child until he is calm. This may take several minutes.
  • Some children will not have a night terror if you purposely wake them (enough to sit up and respond) about an hour after they have been asleep.

Sleep Apnea

A child with sleep apnea usually snores and stops breathing for a few seconds at a time when sleeping. This signals the brain to wake them up. This cycle of not breathing and then waking up to breathe again may happen many times during the night. Your child will not remember waking up, but may be tired or cranky during the daytime. In children sleep apnea can be caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

If you think that your child has sleep apnea, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.


Hypersomnia is a condition in which your child sleeps far more than is normal for his or her age. Your child is always tired, even after a good night’s sleep. A young child with hypersomnia may often be whiny and irritable and sleep too much. Other symptoms besides the need for a lot of sleep may be poor attention or poor memory. Hypersomnia is more common in teens than in younger children. Sometimes, especially with teens, it can be a symptom of depression.

If you think your child has hypersomnia:

  • Try setting a clear routine of bedtime and nap times for several days.
  • If your child is always tired, or has new medical symptoms, or if you think your child has depression, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.


Bruxism is grinding or clenching the teeth during sleep. Children and teens who do this may also grind or clench their teeth when angry, upset, or anxious. Bruxism is more common in teens than in young children.

If your child grinds or clenches his teeth during sleep, try reducing stress in your child’s life. Plan a quiet time of at least half an hour before bedtime no matter how old your child is. If the bruxism happens often or is violent, talk with your child’s healthcare provider and dentist. Repeated grinding or clenching of the teeth can damage the teeth or the jaw. Your child may need to wear a tooth guard when he sleeps.

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Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-29
Last reviewed: 2014-11-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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