Does My Child Have a Sleep Disorder?

What you should know before your visit with your child’s doctor.

Child with difficulty sleeping
Child with difficulty sleeping. Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images

Does your child have snoring or another sleep disorder? It is important to not overlook these concerns, as sleep disorders not only affect your child’s sleep but can have a lasting impact on the development of their: physical, cognitive, emotional, and social abilities. Delaying treatment, if a problem exists, could significantly impact their performance in one or more of the areas mentioned. In particular, if your child suffers from mental delay, learning difficulties, or behavioral problems, they are more prone to having a sleep disorder.

What Are Common Complaints I Should Look For?

When deciding whether or not you should seek medical attention for potential sleep problems, you can consider whether or not your child has 1 of the following 4 complaints:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Tired a lot during the day
  • Snoring or other issues with breathing while asleep
  • Often restless while asleep or other abnormal sleep habits

Preparing For The Doctor Visit

While you can go see your child’s pediatrician or other care-provider without being prepared, a little bit of preparation will dramatically improve the value of the visit and possibly reduce the need for an additional follow-up visit. Your child’s doctor will likely use a checklist similar to BEARS. BEARS is an acronym to help the doctor ensure they address the proper assessments for determining sleep disorders:

  • Regularity and duration of sleep
  • Snoring or other sleep disordered breathing

BEARS is considered the sleep history portion of the doctor examination. This is a critical but sometimes difficult portion of the visit. The sleep history is difficult, as you may not be fully aware of all of your child’s sleep issues, due to your own sleep schedule.

Keeping a sleep log for 2 weeks before visiting with your child’s doctor will greatly enhance the evaluation they perform during the visit. The sleep log should consist of the following information:

  • Time in bed
  • Time your child actually falls asleep
  • Number of awakenings
  • Time awake in the morning
  • Nocturnal events (bed wetting, night terrors, etc.)
  • Eating habits (time & quantity (small, average, a lot)
  • Naps
  • Your perception of the quality of their sleep
  • Daytime quality (sleepy/inattentive, alert/active)
  • Other stressors

While it may be difficult to acquire all this information, there are ways you can help yourself to be more successful in discovering the information. With the improvement in technology, parents now have access to a wide variety of video monitors. This will help you from accidentally interrupting your child’s sleep while trying to find out their sleep habits. Your child's physician will review your log and other parts of the sleep history and will also evaluate other potential reasons for sleep disorders.

What is a normal amount of sleep?

According to a study evaluating about 500 children, regular napping during the day should stop around the age of four. Children 4 and under should also average about 11 hours of nighttime sleep. From the age of 5 until 16 years of age, your child’s average amount of sleep should decline from 11 hours to about 8 hours of sleep during the night. It is important to understand that while these are averages, variation among children may vary by up to 2 hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the following recommendations:

  • Infant to 1 year of age: 14 hours of sleep (combined day and night)
  • 1 to 3 years of age: 12 hours of sleep (combined day and night)
  • 3 to 6 years of age: 11 hours of sleep (combine day and night only for 4-year-olds)
  • 6 to 10 years of age: 10 hours of sleep (night only)
  • 10 to 16 years of age: 9 hours of sleep (night only)

Preparing yourself for the initial visit to evaluate your child’s sleep will greatly affect the productivity of the visit. This means saving you more time and money related to additional visit as well as sooner interventions to helping your child’s sleep.


Wise, M.S. & Glaze, D.G. (2014). Assessment of sleep disorders in children. Accessed October 31, 2015 from

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