It can seem like a simple thing, but how (and how much) a child sleeps can have an enormous impact on their mental and physical health, behavior and learning abilities.
A lack of healthy sleep in children can lead to trouble focusing, a decline in grades, irritability, daytime sleepiness, sleep-related injuries and hyperactivity. For some children and their families, getting proper sleep can be as easy as sticking to an evening routine or setting an early bedtime. But for others, sleep disorders are a very real and serious issue, and deserve proper and thorough diagnosis, management and care.
Common sleep disorders in children and teenagers include:
- insomnia (difficulty getting to and staying asleep)
- delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) (inability to fall asleep at bedtime and difficulty waking up)
- restless leg syndrome (irresistible need for movement)
- narcolepsy (uncontrollable urge to sleep)
- breathing-disordered sleep (snoring, sleep apnea)
- parasomnias (night terrors, nightmares or sleepwalking)
- rhythmic movement disorders (head banging or rocking)
- nocturnal enuresis (nighttime bedwetting)
- bruxism (nighttime teeth grinding or clenching)
- biological clock (circadian) rhythm disorders
- nocturnal (nighttime) seizures
The diagnostic and treatment process begins with a successful sleep study.
In a sleep study (called a polysomnogram), physicians and technicians use electrodes and monitoring equipment to track signs as a child sleeps. These signs include things like breathing patterns, eye movements, heartrate, leg and muscle activity and oxygen levels. Doctors and technicians look for different things in each sleep study. It all depends on the symptoms that a child may have, or the sleep disorder that the doctor is trying to diagnose.
It’s important, too, to consider the benefit of choosing a pediatric sleep center. Children aren’t just small adults—their sleep needs and patterns are different from adults, so their sleep facility should be, too. Many sleep centers are designed for adults, and are not equipped to care for children under age 12. Look for a pediatric sleep center that’s part of a children’s health system; it can help provide a “one-stop shop” for diagnosis, management and successful treatment.