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Restless Sleeping in Children

author image Ivy Morris
Ivy Morris specializes in health, fitness, beauty, fashion and music. Her work has appeared in "Sacramento News and Review," "Prosper Magazine" and "Sacramento Parent Magazine," among other publications. Morris also writes for medical offices and legal practices. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in government-journalism from Sacramento State University.
Restless Sleeping in Children
A restless sleeper wakes up periodically throughout the night. Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

If your child complains he is still tired when you wake him up after a full night's sleep, or he appears sluggish all day, he may be a restless sleeper. Children between the ages of 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of quality sleep each night, according to KidsHealth.org. Restless sleepers don't get quality sleep because they don't stay asleep long enough at one time to fall into a deep sleep.


Tossing and turning throughout the night can lead to a number of daytime problems. Your child may have a hard time waking up when the alarm sounds. She may be unable to think clearly and may perform poorly in school. She can get tired and cranky throughout the day. Activities that she usually finds easy or enjoyable can become difficult and time-consuming to complete. Her growth may even be affected or her immune system may be compromised, warns KidsHealth.org.

Breathing Abnormalities

Restless sleeping can be caused by a number of breathing abnormalities, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center. Breathing abnormalities can cause a child to stop breathing or take shallow breaths while sleeping. These breathing abnormalities can routinely wake a child, preventing him from getting enough deep sleep. The most common breathing abnormality, obstructive sleep apnea, may be caused by obesity, abnormalities in the head or neck, or large tonsils or adenoids. Less common is central hypoventilation syndrome, caused by a problem with the central nervous system.

Restless Movements

If your child has a restless night's sleep because she can't calm her body movements, she may have restless legs syndrome or pediatric limb movement disorder. According to KidsHealth.org, in restless legs syndrome, a child feels tingling, itching, burning or a cramping sensations in her limbs. These sensations cause her to move her limbs to rid those feelings. In pediatric limb movement disorder, the jerks and twitches are involuntarily. Both conditions can disrupt a child's sleep.


While a doctor must diagnose sleep disorders, you can look for signs of breathing problems or restless movements. Signs of breathing problems include snoring and mouth breathing. However, these abnormalities can only be diagnosed after an overnight sleep study in a sleep lab.

For a child to be diagnosed with restless legs syndrome, he must meet the four essential adult criteria and be able to explain these sensations in his own words. According to the article "Restless Legs Syndrome in Children" published in "Medscape General Medicine," the criteria are an urge to move the legs with uncomfortable sensations in the legs, an urge to move the legs that begins or worsens during periods of rest, the urge is worse or only occurs at night, and movement partially or totally relieves the uncomfortable sensations.


In addition to prescribed medicines and medical equipment, practicing good sleep hygiene can improve sleep quality. Put your child to bed at the same time every night with a soothing bedtime routine. Remove any televisions or computers from the room so your child associates his room with sleep, not play. Likewise, your child should use his bed only for sleep, not for reading or talking on the phone, for example. Limit his intake of caffeine and encourage exercise earlier in the day.

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