Hypersomnia in children is a sleep disorder that can occur in the early stages of development. As the name suggests, it is excess sleep that can significantly affect a person’s daily activities. It is the sleep disorder unlike insomnia.
Although it may be transient, hypersomnia can often cause a lot of discomfort and can also be an indicator or precursor of the development of long-term sleep disturbances, so it is important to treat this disorder in a timely manner.
In this article, we will consider what hypersomnia is in children, its characteristics and causes, and finally some of the most recommended treatments.
Related article: “Hypersomnia: Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatments”
What is hypersomnia in children?
Hypersomnia (or primary hypersomnia) is a nonorganic sleep disorder, also known as nonorganic hypersomnia, according to the ICD (International Classification of Diseases, WHO).
This sleep disorder can be developed by both adults and children. In general, infantile hypersomnia is characterized by the presence of excessive daytime sleepiness, that is, the inability of children to stay awake.
Some indicators can be, for example, if the child falls asleep at school, seems to fall asleep, or finds it very difficult to pay attention to daily activities that require an age-appropriate pace.
In connection with the above, some difficulties associated with hypersomnia in children are poor school performance, the presence of mood disorders and alterations in the immune system, endocrine system or metabolic system.
When hypersomnia occurs in adolescence, it can even lead to the consumption of stimulants (Like caffeine) or depressants (like alcohol), as they are used as a tool to keep you awake or to stimulate sleep.
Symptoms and WHO diagnostic criteria
It is estimated that on average, a baby sleeps 16 hours. The infant sleeps from 12 to 14 hours; a child aged 3 to 5 sleeps 11 hours; and between 9 and 10 years old, the child sleeps about 10 hours.
From adolescence to adulthood, it is estimated that a person sleeps 7 to 8 hours a day. Due to this gradual reduction in the hours of rest, late childhood is considered the stage where our sleep has the best quality.
However, it can happen that the hours of sleep of the child do not seem sufficient to allow him to get enough rest and to maintain the corresponding activities the day before.
If this also happens for a long time, we can suspect that it is hypersomnia. For its diagnosis, WHO considers the following criteria:
- Excessive sleepiness or daytime sleep attacks, which appear after a good night’s sleep.
- Very long period of transition from sleep to wakefulnessThat is, a pronounced and lasting difficulty in waking up.
- It occurs daily for a month or more and causes severe discomfort or significantly interferes with the child’s daily activities.
- No other symptom can be diagnosed as narcolepsy or sleep apnea.
- There is no neurological or medical disorder which explains the drowsiness.
In the absence of organic factors or medical conditions explaining the drowsiness, the presence of hypersomnia can be an indicator of a more general psychological disorder. For example, hypersomnia is often associated with the development of affective or depressive disorders.
The causes of sleep disturbances vary depending on the age of the person. Some can be physiological, others can be psychological and others may be related to the habits of the child himself and his family.
1. Changes in brain activity
The brain works through three basic periods: wakefulness, REM sleep (rapid eye movements), and non-REM sleep. During each period, the brain remains active and responds to external stimuli in different ways.
The periods that regulate activity during sleep are REM and non-REM sleep, which alternate in different phases every 80 to 100 minutes. REM sleep, which is regulated by the activation of the noradrenergic system, and its phases increase in duration as dawn approaches.
One of the causes of hypersomnia and other sleep disturbances can be natural changes in the physiology of the brain. For example, as chronological development and age increase, the depth and continuity of sleep changes dramatically; the waking states are greater, And some of the phases of REM and non-REM sleep decrease.
2. Psychological and social factors
Sleep disorders in children are often linked to stressful events that were not treated properly, but they are also linked to more specific issues such as how caregivers carry out activities that take place before and after the pregnancy. pregnancy.
For example, sleep disorders in children under 2 years old they can be related to parenting styles and with parental reactions to sleep behaviors related to children. An even more specific example is how parents are involved in the child’s sleep and wakefulness (at bedtime).
At school age, which is usually from 3 years old, sleep disturbances are often linked to how to set bedtime limits. They are also linked to past habits and stimulate children in different ways, for example, watching TV, a tablet, or reading stories can have different consequences on rest.
Also, hypersomnia and other sleep disorders they can be linked to emotional exhaustion and chronic health problems that cause nocturnal awakenings.
How to assess and what is the treatment?
To assess childhood hypersomnia, it is necessary to know the child’s sleep history, that is, to have access to a detailed description of the frequency, cycles and circumstances or habits. associated with rest, periods of sleep, activity and inactivity.
It is also necessary to know the possible illnesses, traumas or medical infections; and the activities you do during the day (for example, your eating schedules).
This is important because it allows you to detect whether the dream has changed from an early age or is related to a specific event. The most effective technique for finding out is interviewing caregivers and educators., And even towards the same child according to age.
For treatment, it is important to consider that sleep is regulated by internal synchronizers (such as melatonin, body temperature or cortisol) and by external synchronizers (such as light and dark, sounds, habits or stressful events).
The latter are the ones that largely determine how the former work and are the easiest to change. Therefore, one of the ways to treat hypersomnia in children is modify external synchronizers, Which will eventually affect the internal synchronizers.
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- Amaro, F. (2007). Sleep disorders in childhood and adolescence. Accessed May 9, 2018.Available at http://www.paidopsiquiatria.cat/files/trastornos_del_sueno.pdf.
- Montañés, F. and Taracena, L. (2003). Treatment of insomnia and hypersomnia. Medicine, 8 (102): 5488-5496.