What is the effect of untreated pediatric sleep disorders?

Updated: Oct 09, 2018
  • Author: Sufen Chiu, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Pediatric sleep disorders increasingly interfere with daily patient and family functioning. Interest in and treatment of sleep disturbances in youth continues to grow, but research lags. One survey indicated that pediatricians were more likely to prescribe antidepressant medications for insomnia than psychiatrists. [1] Further investigation is needed to develop empirically based diagnosis and treatment of pediatric sleep disorders.

The consequences of untreated sleep problems may include significant emotional, behavioral, and cognitive dysfunction. The magnitude of these sequelae is inversely proportional to the child’s overall ability to adapt and develop in spite of the sleep disturbance. Sleep regulation remains a critical part of health for youths. Elevated rates of sleep problems exist among children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental, nonpsychiatric medical conditions and psychiatric disorders.

Reciprocal relationships occur between sleep disorders and comorbid psychiatric disorders. For example, when a given child with recurrent depression has an exacerbation, sleep problems often increase simultaneously. On the other hand, disrupted and inadequate sleep alone can produce behavioral, affective, and cognitive dysfunction.

Neurobiologically, closely linked modulatory systems appear to regulate sleep, alertness, and attention span. This article focuses on the most prevalent sleep problems among youths that are typical and distinctly unique from adult sleep disorders. Night terrors, nightmares, and sleep apnea are covered only briefly.

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