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Baby Sleep Disorders: What Parents Need To Know

A baby sleep disorder may not seem all that serious, and often the sleep issues that babies have work themselves out over time, but sometimes those bedtime problems can be a sign of something more troubling. While most of us are aware of adult sleep disorders, it may be surprising to realize that one in ten infants and toddlers have sleep related problems and may be at risk for developing a full blown sleep disorder as they get older.

So, as a parent, how can you distinguish between a serious sleep issue and the common "fussiness" that many babies experience at bedtime? Symptoms of sleep disorders in infants can vary from individual to individual, but generally speaking loud snoring several days a week, frequently waking up during the night and experiencing night terrors or taking more than 20 minutes to fall asleep may all be indicators of a more serious underlying problem.

When attempting to assess the presence of a baby sleep disorder it's important to remember that sleep patterns are entirely different for infants and children than they are for adults. Infants routinely sleep between 15-16 hours a day, mostly in small amounts of 30 minutes to 3 hours at a time. Once they reach 1 year of age, they will begin to sleep more at night than during the day but will still wake up during the night from time to time.

Though some wakefulness during the night or during daytime sleep is to be expected, if it begins to become too frequent or regularly includes night terrors, this is when you should be concerned. Don't just assume this is normal behavior. If a real sleep disorder is present it is important to be aware of it and take steps to treat it so that it doesn't continue throughout the child's life.

Cute little baby in bed wearing blue and white striped onesie.

candy1812 / stock.adobe.com

Cute little baby in bed wearing blue and white striped onesie.

candy1812 / stock.adobe.com

Which Type Of Baby Sleep Disorder Are You Dealing With?

A baby sleep disorder usually takes one of two forms: parasomnias or dyssomnias. Parasomnias are issues that disrupt sleep, such as sleepwalking or night terrors. These rarely occur in children under 18 months of age. On the other hand, dyssomnias cause problems falling asleep, remaining asleep or getting proper, restful sleep. These can include severe snoring and sleep apnea.

Though similar to adult apnea, infant apnea can have different symptoms. These include continuous snoring, mouth breathing and a failure to thrive. In children, the most common cause of apnea is enlarged tonsils and the condition can usually be resolved by removing the tonsils. In other cases, apnea can be controlled with weight loss or the use of a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device.

The most serious baby sleep disorder is sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. SIDS occurs when an otherwise healthy infant stops breathing during sleep. If nothing is done to restart breathing the baby can die. Though the cause of SIDS remains unknown there are some steps parents can take to reduce the risk, including ensuring that the baby is always sleeping on its side or back to maintain an open airway. Sleeping on a firm mattress and away from soft blankets or stuffed animals that can obstruct breathing is also recommended.

Everyone has difficulty sleeping from time to time and babies are no exception, but you should never assume that your baby's fussiness at bedtime is just a phase that he'll grow out of in time. If you have any concerns about your baby's sleep habits, by all means discuss them with your pediatrician. The sooner you address them the sooner you can both begin to rest easier.

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