Night terrors may signal sleep apnea in kids

June 11, 2013

Night terrors and other parasomnias in children may coexist with other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, according to the preliminary findings of a new study.

Night terrors and other parasomnias in children may coexist with other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, according to preliminary findings of a new study. Because these conditions can have significant daytime consequences, prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical.

Researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital conducted a retrospective study of 145 children aged 1 to 20 years with parasomnias, such as night terrors. The mean age of the study population was 11.3 years. All participants underwent an overnight sleep study.

The investigators, who presented the poster findings at the annual Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting in early June in Baltimore, Maryland, discovered that almost half (48.3%) the participants reported snoring. Insomnia and mood disturbances were each reported by 41.4%. More than one-third (35.2%) reported breathing pauses. Frequent leg movements during sleep and daytime sleepiness were each reported by 22.1%. Eight percent reported daytime headaches.

The researchers also found that the children and adolescents who participated in long-term follow-up and received treatment for obstructive sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder demonstrated improvement in their parasomnia.

The researchers concluded that sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, frequently coexist with parasomnias. Because parasomnias are often associated with significant daytime consequences, including headaches, sleepiness, and mood disturbances, evaluation for and treatment of any underlying or coexisting sleep disorders are critical.

A separate study conducted in Quebec, Canada, found that parasomnias affect about 88% of young school-aged children at one point or another. The most common is bruxism or teeth grinding (46%), followed by night terrors (40%), sleep enuresis (25%), sleepwalking (15%), and repetitive movements, such as head banging (9%).