Understanding Sleep Disorders in Children
Sleep is a well known naturally occurring condition of the body and mind, characterized by decreased sleep, relatively reduced sensory activity, decreased muscle activity and inhibition of most voluntary muscles during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. People experience sleep during their lives when they have fallen asleep through the normal sleep cycle, usually from the age of seven until the age of twenty-five. Children also experience sleep during childhood up to the age of around thirteen. During the adolescent years, children may experience sleep during their adolescent years up to the age of around thirteen. Sleep duration and quality during sleep vary with age, with young children experiencing extremely deep sleep, while adults may only experience a few brief arousals during the night.
Sleep cycles begin with the period of light sleep, which is known as the waking stage and is followed by the period of deep sleep known as the new sleep or resting stage. The average sleep cycle is between four and seven and a half hours. The stages of sleep are as follows:
A. A few minutes of very active sleep at the beginning of the day, before leaving bed, is required for the formation of the physical body’s base and is also necessary for the repair of the tissues that are damaged during sleep and for the maintenance of the energy supply for daytime activity. A few minutes of sleep in the morning is necessary for the maintenance of alertness and for making a good start to the day.
B. A fairly long sleep period of about eight or nine hours is required for the restoration of the mental processes to the levels they were at the beginning of the day. The brain must be awakened and the various functions of the body pumped of enough blood for the processes to operate properly. The body does not retain everything that is put into it during the day, so sleep is not the same as a time for the body to regroup and reorganize its mental and physical functions.
C. In the early morning, the body begins its preparation for the various activities of the day. This includes the setting of the stage for the awakening of the central nervous system and the preparation of the organs for the flight or fight reactions to upcoming physical challenges. As the body rises from the non- REM sleep stage it is important to allow sufficient time for the oxygenated blood to leave the body. The body is at the point where it is not dependent on oxygen for the maintenance of its functions, so the process of hypoxia or falling asleep takes place when the normal blood flow to the brain is interrupted. The most common symptoms that result from this condition are difficulty in falling asleep, irritability, lack of concentration and memory problems.
D. Childhood sleep problems are more likely to occur if there is an interrupted sleep cycle, especially if there is the existence of an underlying medical condition like nervousness or hyperactivity. The interruption of sleep patterns is the main cause of disturbed sleeping habits, which can lead to the development of sleep disorders in adulthood. For instance, obstructive sleep apnea interrupts breathing at night and is responsible for obstructive sleep apnoea. The use of certain drugs including benzodiazepines, tranquilizers, alcohol, and nicotine is also associated with the development of the sleeping disorder known as insomnia, which is often associated with the development of sleep problems in adults.