All kids have the occasional rough night's sleep, whether it’s because of a nightmare, a change in routine, an illness, a skipped nap, or something else. More often than not, bad nights pass and most toddlers learn to sleep through the night from a young age. Some young children, however, have a much harder time getting regular, healthy sleep. In fact, there are a few common toddler sleep problems that are signs of a bigger issue that are worth knowing about if you suspect your own little one is dealing with a bigger issue causing their bad nights.
Of course, not every toddler who has trouble sleeping at night will have a sleep disorder. But according to The New York Times, sleep disorders are more common in kids under the age of seven than most people believe. Furthermore, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that nearly 69 percent of children have a sleep related issue of some kind, in a study which took into account factors like sleep environment, diet, family routine, night awakenings, and other sleep behaviors.
As scary (and exhausting) as these common sleep issues can be, it's important to understand that they can be solved, or at least monitored and minimized so that both your toddler and you can get the sleep you both deserve.
1. Frequent Loud Snoring
The NSF reported that, although many children snore occasionally due to respiratory illnesses or allergies, frequent, loud snoring in young kids is usually due to a more serious issue like sleep apnea. If you suspect your toddler's persistent snoring is due to something other than allergies or a passing illness, take them into their pediatrician who may suggest performing sleep tests to scan for sleep apnea.
2. Frequent Waking Every Night
Although frequent waking isn't automatically a sign of a sleep disorder, it can signal other issues at play or, when noticed along with other sleep problems, can be a sign of a bigger issue. According to the Baby Sleep Site, frequent toddler wakings can result from schedule changes, developmental leaps, teething, or incontinence. The article also noted that frequent wakings can also be a symptom of more serious problems like ear infections or restless leg syndrome (RLS), sleep apnea, or sensory processing disorder (SPD).
Although over-tiredness isn't necessarily a sleep disorder, it is an issue that can wreak havoc on your toddler's schedule and on everyone's quality of sleep. According to What To Expect, signs of over-tiredness can be as simple as extreme irritability or increase tantrums, a schedule change, skipped naps, or simply staying up too late the night before. Luckily, over-tiredness can be fixed with a little bit of habit changing and ensuring that your little one gets enough rest both during the day and at night.
4. Taking More Than 20 Minutes To Fall Asleep
According to UCLA Sleep Disorder Center, this issue is more accurately a symptom of a poor sleep association than anything else. As long as your child isn’t truly fearful of falling asleep, it may be that they’re used to things being a certain way (for example, having a parent rub their back or sit with them until they fall asleep). Luckily, these sleep problems can be corrected if it’s becoming an issue that affects you or your toddler’s sleep.
5. Sleep Terrors Or Nightmares
One of the most frightening sleep disorders a child can have are sleep terrors. Unlike with nightmares, when a child is experiencing a night terror, they won’t be able to wake up or be comforted. According to Stanford Children’s Health, night terrors can last from 10 to 30 minutes, but are technically harmless in and of themselves. If, however, your child’s night terrors are happening frequently, last more than 30 minutes, has stiffening or jerking during an episode, or you feel that outside stress may be causing the terrors, schedule a doctor visit right away.
6. Confusion When Waking
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia noted that confusion on arousal in toddlers is identified as a “parasomnia” — a sleep event or disturbance that may be infrequent or mild, but perhaps bothersome enough to require medical attention. Confusional arousals usually entail crying and thrashing around when waking, confusion upon waking up, and then, usually, returning to a deep sleep.