Sleep problems in children can be a real stressful time for the whole family. Most night time disturbances are usually harmless. Experts only speak of a real sleep disorder when your child is over a year old and the problem has persisted for a long period of time. Up until this point, it’s normal for your child to wake up frequently at night, as their day-night rhythm has to settle down first.

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If you have identified a sleeping problem in your baby, you can often treat it with love and understanding by giving them security and supporting them with evening routines. However, there are also sleep problems that you should watch closely, as these can be dangerous for your child.

Signs of Sleep Apnea?

If you see your child gasp at night, it could be a sign of poorly developed airways in your little one. With this so-called apnea, your baby's breathing stops for at least five seconds. The insufficient air supply causes the oxygen in their blood to drop dramatically. Their little body reacts to this by gasping for air. They then continue to breathe normally and regularly.

The more premature your baby is born, the more likely they are to have this central sleep apnea because the respiratory centre in their brain is not fully developed. In the first two years of life, sleep apnea can progress without any further symptoms and therefore go unnoticed. However, if you notice this gasping for breath in your child, you should act. If the associated breathing pauses last longer than 20 seconds, the heart may beat more slowly and the skin may turn blue. In the worst case, this sleep problem can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

If your child is a bit older and you notice breathing problems at night, such as regular snoring, this can be for various reasons such as having enlarged tonsils, polyps or allergies. These problems can also be related to childhood obesity. During the day, sleep problems are often noticeable through unfocused and fidgety behaviour. As these signs are similar to attention disorder, what is known as obstructive sleep apnea in children over the age of two is often misdiagnosed as ADHD.

Specialists can help your child

If you suspect your little one is suffering from sleep apnea or other night time problems, professionals can help you. You don't have to solve these problems on your own. Persistent sleep deprivation puts a strain on your parent-child relationship, which is why it’s advisable to seek help. You can first talk to your paediatrician about your baby's observed behaviour. They will know your child and their previous history and will be able to get a comprehensive impression of this. In this context, the doctor can already clarify whether the sleep problems may have organic or emotional causes and can be treated accordingly. If this is not the case, they can certainly give you a few tips. Perhaps they will also give you the task of keeping a sleep log for your child that you will discuss together at the next appointment.

If your child's sleep problems are still not resolved, you should make an appointment at a sleep laboratory. Since it is monitored by various devices while sleeping, the causes and possible therapeutic approaches can be better diagnosed. So don't worry if your paediatrician advises you to seek help in a sleep laboratory. The doctors will find the causes of the night time disturbances so that both of you can sleep through the night and wake up rested the next morning.

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