Recognizing Sleep Disorders in Children with the SMH Sleep Center

November 07, 2008

Could a sleep disorder be the cause of your child's behavioral problem? Sleep disorders in children put kids at risk for attention problems, emotional outbursts, frustration and other behaviors that can get in the way of success at school.

While adults with a sleep disorder may feel tired or drowsy during the daytime, children with sleep disorders often exhibit different symptoms than adults such as hyperactivity, mood swings and irritability. These symptoms often could be confused with ADHD or another behavioral condition.

A pediatric sleep study can help pediatricians determine if the child’s behavioral problem is caused by a sleep issue. Overnight sleep studies are available for children as young as three at Shore Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sleep Medicine. The Sleep Center has a warm, comfortable environment suitable for children. Parents are also provided sleeping accommodations so they may remain in their child’s room during the overnight study.

“There is so much we can learn from an overnight sleep study,” says Nancy Keiluhn, a registered respiratory therapist and registered polysomnographic technologist from Sleep Care, Shore Memorial’s Sleep Center partner. “Our sleep technologists monitor breathing, heart rate, limb movement and other factors that could be the cause of a pediatric sleep disorder.”

Although it’s estimated that nearly two million children in the United States are living with a sleep disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that only about a fifth of all pediatricians regularly screen their patients for sleep apnea and other hidden sleep problems.

Children often have different causes for sleep disorders than adults. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can affect children’s breathing during sleep, preventing them from sleeping soundly. The increase in childhood obesity also has caused an increase in pediatric sleep apnea.

“In most cases, once the tonsils are removed parents see a significant improvement in their children. When the children no longer have their tonsils restricting their breathing, they can finally have a restful night’s sleep,” says Keiluhn.

Keiluhn suggests parents watch for signs of common pediatric sleep problems such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavioral issues
  • Frequent awakening during the night
  • Talking during sleep
  • Waking up crying
  • Feeling sleepy during the day
  • Nightmares
  • Bedwetting
  • Teeth grinding and clenching
  • Waking up early

She also suggests the following recommendations for helping children get a full night’s sleep:

  • Setting a regular bed time and sticking to it
  • Removing TVs, computers and other distractions from your child’s room
  • Avoiding big meals and caffeinated drinks close to bedtime
  • Setting a relaxation routine and a quiet time before going to bed
  • Making sure the bedroom is dark, quiet and comfortable

Keiluhn encourages all parents who suspect that their child has a sleep disorder to make an appointment with their pediatrician. She also encourages them to keep a log of the child’s sleep habits for the time period between when the appointment is made and the actual visit. Parents should discuss their findings with the doctor.

“Parents should observe their child for to see if he is tossing and turning throughout the night, waking up sweating, snoring or leaning his head back while sleeping. Any of these symptoms could be a sign of a sleep disorder and should be reported to the pediatrician,” says Keiluhn.

For more information about pediatric sleep disorders, visit the Sleep Center Online or call 1-800-SLEEPRX and ask for the Shore Memorial Center for Sleep Medicine.