Nightmares and night terrors are common for small children, but night tremors are a rare occurrence. Night tremors may or may not be a cause for medical concern, but parents should note symptoms and consult a medical professional. Some types of night tremors will resolve as the child ages or may be related to another type of sleep disorder.
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Characteristics of a Night Tremor
Tremors are involuntary and sudden movements of the hands, feet, face or other part of the body. Tremors normally do not occur during sleep, but if they do, children may involuntarily shake or jerk in the middle of the night. Children who are experiencing extreme stress or fatigue are more prone to experiencing a night tremor because their partially developed nervous system reacts to these conditions. Mild, involuntary movement of arms and legs may occur in the first third of sleeping and is normal. More pronounced tremors may occur at any point during the night, and the child may or may not awaken.
Causes of Tremors
Certain antidepressant and narcotic medications taken right before bedtime may result in shaking in the limbs and body during sleep. In addition to medication, stress can over-stimulate the central nervous system during sleep, resulting in shaking or tremor. However, the most common movement disorder is an essential tremor, caused by a neurological condition. More rare but serious conditions which cause tremors are epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease.
Sometimes a sleep disorder causes symptoms similar to a tremor. Conditions such as sleep apnea or Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, behavior disorder may cause shaking, jerking or sudden jerks upon falling asleep, and children will exhibit those most commonly in the first third of the night. REM behavior disorder causes abnormal limb movements similar to a tremor due to vivid, active dreams. A medical professional can help determine if a sleep study may help to further diagnose the condition.
Diagnosis of Night Tremor
Doctors may use a variety of types of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the tremor. A blood test can rule out thyroid problems as a cause of tremor. Computerized tomography scans and magnetic resonance imaging allow medical professionals to view the brain and evaluate nervous system function.
Therapy for tremors in adults can include prescription medication, psychotherapy or deep brain stimulation. Medicines range from beta blockers, such as propranolol or nadolol, to anticonvulsant medications, such as primidone. Diagnosis and treatment in children may differ, since they still have a developing central nervous system and certain medications or procedures have unwanted side effects. As the child's central nervous system matures, sometimes night tremors become less frequent or disappear.