Baby Sleep Disorders
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
are the 2 primary baby
to be aware of. They are rarer than the typical behavioral problems we
know (learning to self soothe and stay asleep) but need your extra attention.
(extreme daytime sleepiness) is a third primary disorder that can
start in early infancy,
but it is much rarer still.
When is it normal and when is it a disorder?
If your baby or toddler has huge difficulties sleeping, you may start
thinking of a true disorder
. That's a natural reaction, and
it's good to follow your instincts in these cases.
If you worry, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor or pediatrician
Don't be surprised though if they are not too keen on diagnosing a disorder
, especially if your baby is very young. You may need to
contact your nearest pediatric sleep center for a dedicated study.
Either way, both for you and for the doctors, the first question to
expect will always be "is it a true disorder or is it just
a normal baby issue?"
I know all too well how daunting just
a normal issue can be. But to get the right treatment, it's
important to see the difference.
It is good to know that:
- Even very disruptive issues - such as sleeping only a
couple of hours each day, waking up every hour and not being able to
self settle - are almost always still normal.
Pediatricians call these issues behavioral problems.
The solution is in guiding your child consistently and
patiently, for example with the techniques discussed
throughout this website.
These behavioral problems can be quite
extreme, in which none of even the best practice guidelines seem to
help. Dedicated help in a specialized pediatric center
can then also be necessary.
Also, never hesitate to ask
me about baby sleep disorders
whenever you're in doubt.
- There are basically 3 disorders that babies and toddlers can have.
They each have rather clear symptoms so you should be able to spot them
Three baby sleep disorders to look out for
Night terrors in babies and toddlers
Night terrors are not dreams: it's when a child seemingly wakes up
bewildered, often screams and seems panicky but is not really awake.
It's a typical toddler and older child thing, but also babies under 1
year old can have it. It can be scary and disturbing, especially as a
parent but baby usually hardly notices and is not harmed or affected.
See the detailed night
terrors in babies
page for how to recognize and how to avoid
the screaming awakenings.
Sleep apnea in babies and toddlers
Central or Obstructive Apnea is when child has abnormally long breathing pauses, longer
than 20 seconds. She'll wake up gasping for breath, may be screaming or
even turn blue.
Central Apnea is the most common form in babies until 1 year old.
The more typical
toddler and child form of apnea is called Obstructive Apnea (OSA).
Start at the apnea symptoms
pages for risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and
Narcolepsy is a serious disorder most of us only know from adults. The
main symptoms is irresistible sleepiness during the day.
Luckily very very rare in babies and children, studies have shown early
infancy signs of narcolepsy.,
Do talk to your doctor if you are worried about any of the baby sleep
disorders, and contact
me if you want to discuss your concerns.
 Pediatric narcolepsy:
complexities of diagnosis Hood BM, Harbord MG. J
Paediatr Child Health. 2002 Dec;38(6):618-21.
 Infancy Onset of Symptoms of
Narcolepsy in a Child Witmans, M. B., Kirk, V. G., doi:
10.1177/000992280204100809 CLIN PEDIATR October 2002 vol. 41 no. 8