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Movements and Behaviors That Affect a Child’s Sleep

A child is happy and well-rested at school because he got treatment for movements and behaviors that contribute to insomnia

Give Your Child A Better Night of Sleep

Sleep is a fundamental pillar of a child’s well-being and development, influencing their physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. While it’s common knowledge that poor sleeping habits, such as using electronic devices before bed or engaging in active pre-sleep activities, can disrupt a child’s sleep routine, these aren’t the sole contributors to problems with sleep. Certain movements and behaviors can also have a detrimental effect on a child’s sleep quality. 

Learn about the proper sleep durations for different age groups and some common movement and behavior disorders that impair children’s sleep with Dr. Liliana Calkins, our Reston, VA, sleep specialist. By delving into these topics, parents and caregivers can get the knowledge and strategies to ensure children get the quality sleep they need.

How Many Hours of Sleep a Day Do Children Need?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the amount of daily sleep, including naps, children need differs between age groups. 

  • Infants need 12 to 16 hours of sleep daily for optimal health and development.
  • Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep daily. 
  • Three to five-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours. 
  • Six to 12-year-olds need nine to 12 hours of sleep each night. 
  • Teenagers need eight to 10 hours per night to support their well-being.

Which Movements and Behaviors Impair Sleep in Children?

Sleep Starts

Sleep starts, also known as hypnic jerks, are abrupt but soft movements that occur as a child transitions into sleep. Children and teenagers from all age groups can suffer from this condition, and it’s generally harmless.

Limb Jerks

Limb jerks can be caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder with symptoms like snoring, obstructed breathing, and sudden abdominal movements. Some children suffering from this condition also experience limb movements during arousal. However, these movements are not stereotyped, meaning they don’t follow a consistent or repetitive pattern.

Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep

Periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMD), also known as nocturnal myoclonus, refer to episodes of repetitive limb movements during sleep. These movements often include children extending their great toe and flexing their ankles, knees, and hips. When PLMD occurs several times a night or wakes the person, they result in insomnia and sleep disruption. Children affected by PLMD often experience daytime problems, including diminished attentiveness and behavioral changes.

Hypnagogic Foot Tremor

Hypnagogic foot tremor refers to a benign rhythmic movement of the feet or toes during the initial stages of sleep. Foot tremors occur with a frequency of around one to two seconds. This movement can be distinguished from periodic limb movements of sleep based on its frequency and the moment it occurs after the child falls asleep.

Rhythmic Movement Disorder

With rhythmic movement disorder, many infants and young children move their heads, necks, or trunks as they fall asleep or enter the light sleep stage. These movements include body rocking, head rolling from side to side, and head-banging.

In most cases, sleep experts label rhythmic movement disorder as a developmental phenomenon that goes away when the child reaches the age of five. However, if these movements lead to self-injury or disrupt normal sleep, the condition turns to sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder.


Parasomnias are episodic and complex behaviors that disrupt sleep. Common parasomnias in children include sleepwalking, confusional arousals, and sleep terrors. These conditions usually happen during partial arousal from non-rapid eye movement sleep. While parasomnias are generally benign and more common in young children, they can manifest in older kids or adolescents.

Other Factors That Disrupt Sleep in Children

External influences can also disrupt a child’s nighttime routine and sleep quality, including: 

  • Using electronic devices or watching TV before bed
  • Doing exercise and physical activity
  • Being surrounded by disruptive environmental noises
  • Having other children in the bedroom
  • Having a parent or caregiver present as they fall asleep

Would You Like to Learn More About Sleep Disorders in Children?

For professional assistance in addressing movements and behaviors that impair a child’s sleep, we recommend seeking the expertise of Sunrise Orthodontics and Airway and Sleep Group. Contact us today at (571) 244-7329 to schedule an appointment or learn more.

Airway & Sleep Group

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Reston, VA 20191

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