Sleep problems may occur at any point in your kids’ growing-up years. Most common of these are nightmares, night terrors, sleep talking, and sleep walking.
If you suspect that your kids have one or two sleep problems, it may help to understand why they have these in the first place.
Sleep problems in your kids are related to poor sleep habits. They may also be caused by anxiety about going to bed and falling asleep. For them, bedtime is a time of separation. Sometimes they will do all they can to resist going to bed.
Nightmares may start at around age 7, but can also start in children as young as 2. It may follow an unpleasant experience or may be a sign of an underlying anxiety. Nightmares interfere with restful sleep.
If nightmares do happen, find out whether your kids are frightened by anything or are feeling worried about something. If so, it may help to stop the nightmares by dealing with your kids’ fear. Give them plenty of reassurance. You can also check if they are reading something or watching a show that could frighten them before going to bed.
If your kids are afraid of the dark, little things may help them feel more secure, such as a nightlight, their favorite toy, or their favorite pillow or blanket.
Remember though that nightmares and bedtime fears are quite common in children 6 to 12 years old and often disappear when they get older.
A sleep problem called night terror belongs to a rare group of sleep disorders called parasomnias, together with sleep walking and sleep talking. Also called sleep terror, it is different from a nightmare.[pq]Kids with sleep terror will scream uncontrollably and appear to be awake, but they appear confused and cannot communicate.[/pq]
Sleep terror often occurs in children 4 to 12 years old. Some night terrors occur during a stressful time in the family, or at a time of increased activity and anticipation in the family, such as during holidays.
A night terror most often occurs within the first three hours of sleep. A night terror is usually characterized by the following:
- Flailing arms
- As if your kids were looking through you
- Your presence doesn’t calm them; sometimes they don’t even realize you are with them
- Your kids look as if they were hallucinating
What can you do? Remember these:
- Your kids are asleep when the night terror occurs.
- Let your kids get through the night terror.
- Stay with them to make sure there is nothing in the way that may hurt them as they act the terror out. If you do this, the terror will go away after a few minutes.
- Trying to wake your kids may prolong the terror.
Sleepwalking is another disorder that often affects children 6 to 12 years and is most common in boys. It occurs when they are in deep sleep. Kids who sleepwalk appear to be awake as they move around, but they are actually asleep.
If you have kids who sleepwalk, you have to be alert and make sure that they are out of harm’s way. If you know the parts of the house your kids usually go to whenever they sleepwalk, it would make sense if you move objects that they could trip over or bang against. Also make sure that your doors are locked and your windows closed.
One website (netdoctor.co.uk) tells parents to also observe the following:
- Do not restrain or tie up your kids during an episode of sleepwalking since this could make them even more confused or frightened.
- Make sure that your kids empty their bladder just before going to bed. This could help stop these episodes.
- If the problem happens very frequently at similar times in the evening, you can also try an approach called “scheduled walking”, which involves waking your kids about 15 minutes before the episode is due, and then keeping them awake for five minutes. Repeat this every night for about a month.
- Bring your kids to a pediatrician. The problem may be a sign of an underlying emotional problem.
- Drug treatment is rarely used for sleepwalking. The problem almost certainly stops happening when they get older.
Night terrors and sleepwalking run in families. If your kids have any of these problems, their daytime behavior is likely to be affected. If the problem is persistent, with episodes occurring several times a night, or nightly for weeks, it is important that you bring your kids to a child/adolescent psychiatrist. He or she can develop a program to deal with your kids’ sleep disorders.
Sleep talking is less worrisome than night terrors and sleepwalking. It is said to be of no harm to them, though. Experts find this an interesting phenomenon, because its direct causes are not known, and if your kids talk while asleep, you can actually converse with kids.
Sleep talking is the utterance of speech or sounds during sleep without their being aware of the event. It is likely to occur in children who are deprived of sleep.
Take note of the following characteristics of sleep talking:
- Polysomnography (sleep recording) shows episodes of sleep talking can occur in any stage of sleep.
- It can be associated with psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders.
- It can be associated with medical problems such as fever or other diseases.
- It can be associated with other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (a condition where breathing during sleep is impaired, or even stops), or REM (rapid-eye movement, a stage during sleep) sleep behavior disorder.
What can you do if your kids talk while asleep?
- Make sure the sleep talkers get plenty of sleep every night. Remember that if our kids are sleep-deprived, they are more likely to sleep talk.
- Try to look for the things that stress them out or make them anxious, and try to solve them.
- Make them stick to a regular sleeping and waking schedule.
- Do not let your kids eat a heavy meal before bedtime.
- Make sure your sleep-talking kids are safe in bed, then try to soothe them – slightly tap them on the shoulder, for example, until they stop talking.