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Sleep-related movement disorders in childhood

Suresh Kotagal, MD
Section Editor
Ronald D Chervin, MD, MS
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


Sleep-related movement disorders are characterized by relatively simple, usually stereotyped movements that disturb sleep or its onset [1]. By contrast, other sleep-related behaviors, such as sleepwalking and night terrors, are categorized as parasomnias because they involve complex movements and behaviors during sleep.

Sleep-related movements of children and adolescents have diverse etiologies, clinical features, management approaches, and outcomes [2]. The movements may occur at the transition from wakefulness to sleep, in sleep, or during both wakefulness and sleep. Some patterns of movement are physiologic and benign (eg, hypnic starts), while others, such as periodic limb movements, may be pathologic. The patient may be aware of the disorder in some instances (eg, restless legs syndrome [RLS]) and may be amnestic in another disorder (eg, in some cases of rhythmic movement disorder).

For many of these disorders, a detailed history from the parent and child are sufficient for the diagnosis and may be supplemented by video recordings of the movements obtained by parents in the home environment. In some instances, consultation with a sleep specialist and nocturnal polysomnography are required.

This topic review provides an overview and a clinical approach to sleep-related movement disorders in children. Related topics that address movements and behaviors during sleep include:

(See "Approach to abnormal movements and behaviors during sleep".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Jun 16, 2016.
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