What is sleep problems in children?

Sleep Problems in Children

Sleep problems in children: Overview

Many parents worry about their children's sleep. There is no "right" amount of sleep for children, because each child's needs are different. But some children have sleep problems that keep them, and often their families, from getting the sleep they need. Some sleep problems go away on their own, and others may need medical care.

Sleep problems affect children in different ways. When a child has night terrors, usually everyone in the house knows it. The child screams during sleep. And then when they're awake, the child doesn't remember crying or what caused it. Some children get out of bed during the night and start walking, even though they are sound asleep. Some children wet the bed while sleeping. Some children regularly stop breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or longer (sleep apnea).

Your doctor will work with you to find out what is causing your child's sleep problem. Sometimes tests or sleep studies are needed. For many children, getting regular exercise, eating well, and having a good bedtime routine relieves sleep problems. If you try these changes and your child still has problems, the doctor may prescribe medicine or suggest other treatment.

What kinds of sleep problems can children have?

Most sleep problems occur when the child is only partly asleep. Problems may include:

Sleep talking.

Your child may talk loudly or shout for a few seconds and then fall back asleep. You may not be able to understand what your child says. Sleep talking is more common than sleepwalking, although some children do both.


These are very common in preschool and school-age children. Your child may cry out for your comfort or go to your room after a nightmare. The child usually can be reassured and calmed.

Confusional arousals.

Your child may wake up crying, confused, and groggy. Your child may not recognize you or be comforted. As with sleep talking, your child may say mixed-up words that make no sense.

Night terrors.

Night terrors are more intense than confusional arousals or nightmares. They are not very common, but they can be very upsetting for parents. Your child may suddenly scream or yell in a terrified way. Your child may thrash around in bed. A night terror can go on for many minutes. Your child may not recognize you and won't be comforted.


Your child may walk around their room or the house. Your child's eyes may be open, but your child is still asleep. Children who sleepwalk often can do very simple tasks, such as walking around furniture. But they can't do more involved things, such as eating a snack. Children may be in danger if they try to walk out of the house or climb out a window while sleepwalking.

Children spend more time than teens and adults in a deep stage of sleep that happens early in the night. Sleep problems such as night terrors often happen during the change from this phase of sleep into lighter sleep. Nightmares tend to occur later in sleep, in the early morning hours when children are dreaming.

It may take some time for your child to go back to sleep. Children usually remember a nightmare, but they don't tend to remember night terrors, confusional arousals, or sleepwalking.

Caring for a child who has night terrors or confusional arousals

Most children who have night terrors or confusional arousals don't want comfort from parents. They usually will fall back asleep when it's over, and they won't remember the event the next morning. But a night terror can be very upsetting to watch.

  • Don't try to wake up your child.

    Your child may become more confused and scared.

  • Try to stay calm.

    In a short time, your child will probably fall back asleep.

Sleep problems in children: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child continues to have sleep problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.