An explanation for your baby’s poor sleep An explanation for your baby’s poor sleep

An explanation for your baby’s poor sleep

Little giants 29 June, 2016 María Alejandra Tavera


It is normal for children to make small repetitive movements while they sleep, as they grow older this phenomenon gradually goes away.

Medical Advisor: Luis Guillermo Duque Ramírez, Neurologist

The word myoclonus is a little extravagant and difficult to understand, but its meaning becomes more clear if we describe it with everyday language, “My child just doesn’t sleep well.” What we all understand by poor sleep is that the child either moves a lot while they sleep, they sleepwalk through their home still entrapped in their dreams, or they sit up and talk as if it were three in the afternoon and not three in the morning. In sum, myoclonus is more common than its name implies; it is a sleep disorder.

Luis Guillermo Duque Ramírez, a professor at the Department of Medicine at the University of Antioquia and doctor of neuroscience, explains that while myoclonus is common among young children, it is also experienced by adults, “This can be explained easily. Have you ever been startled to wake up because of a twitch in your body? Of course you have, this happens to all of us and is called a myoclonic jerk.”

Briefly, this is defined as the loss of control of muscle groups and occurs when one goes from a superficial stage of sleep to a deeper one. While these episodes are normal, they can turn into sleep disorders. “Myoclonic jerking that occurs while falling asleep is normal as long as it does not increase in frequency. It is abnormal when the movements are repetitive or very intense. It is not normal for there to be more than five episodes an hour.”

Some myths exist with regard to these small spasms that children experience while they sleep. Mothers often mention how their child has “worms” (parasites) or that they have very poor sleep. Decades ago, especially in rural areas, it was thought that when this happened, it meant that a witch was flying above the house. None of this is true.

“It is common for children to experience these types of abnormalities in their sleep, as they are more hypertonic than adults. In other words, they are less relaxed when falling asleep; as adults, we tend to let ourselves go when we sleep. Sometimes when a baby is moved from the position in which they are sleeping, they may begin to make involuntary and repetitive movements. This is due to their hypertonic state.”

Myoclonus becomes less frequent as the child reaches adulthood. Every once in a while, it is normal for an adolescent to get out of their bed while they are asleep and walk through their home as if they were very awake, or they may sit up from their sleep and talk out of the blue and may even answer questions. This is myoclonus and it is more present in children because, as Duque Ramírez says with the clarity of a professor, “You tend to observe them more when they sleep because you fear that something could happen to them, but these are normal processes of falling asleep.”

If the baby or child has more than five episodes in one hour that last for several days, visit a doctor that is either a specialist in sleep medicine or a pediatrician; as the specialist clarifies, while it is not very common, something that may be considered normal in the majority of cases, may be end up being epilepsy.

Sleep disorders:

The most recent classification of sleep medicine identifies over 100 sleep disorders. Among children, these disorders include night terrors, which occur at the beginning of the night and are associated with the child’s last activity of the day; nightmares, which take place during deep sleep and are due more to everyday habits or thoughts; sleepwalking; teeth grinding; nocturnal enuresis, which is when the child wets their bed even after having learned to control their bladder; somniloquy, which is sleep-talking and not remembering; sleep paralysis, which is when the individual is dreaming and believes that they are awake and cannot move; periodic movements of the extremities or restless legs syndrome; snoring and apneas.