When you first brought your child home from the hospital, sleep was likely a big topic of conversation in your family. How your baby slept — or didn’t — at night could have a big impact on your days. As your child grows, sleep continues to play an important role in their development and can affect your whole family’s health.
Sleep medicine specialists at ProMedica say while sleep problems in children and teens are common, they’re underdiagnosed and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is our body’s natural reset button and is an essential building block to both our physical and mental health. “If your child is having trouble getting enough sleep or is getting poor quality sleep, it’s important to help them fix those problems,” says Hassan Dbouk, MD, a children’s sleep specialist with ProMedica Physicians.
Better sleep quality can affect your child in positive ways during the day. It can significantly improve behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, and school performance.
When thinking about your child’s sleep, consider the following factors. Does your child:
- Get enough sleep? (The minimum number of hours recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics ranges from 8 to 12, depending on age.)
- Have a regular bedtime schedule and routine?
- Sleep free from interruptions, such as loud snoring, pauses in breathing or restless movement?
- Sleep without distractions, such as electronics or distracting noises?
If you answered “no” to any of the above, it’s worth thinking about how to help your child get an easier night’s rest.
Common Sleep Conditions in Children
Sleep can be affected by a wide spectrum of issues, including mental health conditions. If your child is having trouble sleeping, talking to your child’s pediatrician may help you get to the bottom of what’s causing the problem. In some cases, you may be referred to a sleep specialist.
According to Dr. Dbouk, some common sleep conditions include:
Sleep apnea. Children with sleep apnea may snore loudly, appear to stop breathing for a moment while sleeping or move restlessly during the night, interfering with their ability to get true rest.
Restless leg syndrome. Kids with restless leg syndrome may have an uncomfortable feeling in their legs when they’re trying to lay down at night, which prevents them from falling asleep.
Increased daytime sleepiness. Also called hypersomnia, this condition is usually caused when a child doesn’t get enough sleep or has a poor quality of sleep. Children may feel sleepy during the day even after a “full night” of sleep.
Insomnia. Children with insomnia might have trouble falling — or staying — asleep. There are many potential causes, including lifestyle or behavioral factors, or other medical issues.
Sleep disturbances. Children may experience interruptions to their sleep, such as sleep walking or talking, teeth grinding, nightmares or night terrors. In many cases, these issues resolve on their own, but doctors will check to make sure they’re not caused by an underlying medical condition.
During your visit with a sleep specialist, you’ll be asked questions about your child’s medical history. The specialist will listen to your concerns and conduct a thorough physical exam. After this consultation, it’s common to recommend an overnight sleep study.
What is a sleep study?
A sleep study helps doctors see the full picture of what a night’s sleep looks like for your child. Your child will sleep in a private room in a sleep lab for the night, while their breathing, sleep stages, heart rate and movement are monitored.
As a parent, you’re welcome to sleep in the room with your child in a nearby bed. You can also arrange to visit the sleep lab prior to spending the night to help your child feel more comfortable if needed.
What does treatment look like?
Treatment depends on your child’s age and medical needs, and may include lifestyle changes, medication, surgery or other recommendations.
At ProMedica, pediatric sleep doctors have close relationships with other pediatric medical experts including ear, nose and throat specialists, heart and lung specialists, behavior specialists, and weight and wellness specialists. Since sleep issues can have a wide number of causes and treatments, this kind of team helps ensure the right course of action is taken for your child.
Finding the right care and reassurance often helps parents sleep easier as well.
“We’re lucky at ProMedica to have a comprehensive team for these issues,” says Dr. Dbouk. “Our aim is to deliver state-of-the-art evaluation and treatment.”
Dr. Dbouk is a sleep specialist with ProMedica Physicians. Learn more about pediatric sleep care.