Children who go to bed on time but are still sleepy during the day may not be getting good quality sleep. In addition to apnea, children, like adults, can suffer from sleep disorders such as periodic leg movements of kicking or stretching during the sleep; restless legs syndrome, an uncomfortable feeling described as crawling in their legs; and narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that results in people falling asleep suddenly. Symptoms in children with narcolepsy can include sudden loss of muscle tone, called cataplexy, and hallucinations that occur as a child falls asleep or awakens.
Children should get at least nine hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep can negatively affect a child’s mood, behavior and performance in school. While children with sleep disorders may not appear as tired or sleepy as adults who experience similar problems, their lives can be just as significantly affected. It is important to diagnose the problem and treat it, so that like adults, they can function at their very best. A nocturnal polysomnogram, or sleep study, can determine whether your child is getting a good night’s sleep.
A sleep study is necessary when a child or even adult experience any of the following:
- Stops breathing during sleep as observed by others
- Feels sleepy during the day
- Has headaches after waking up
- Has a dry mouth after waking up
- Is irritable
- Has trouble concentrating
- Has memory problems
Symptoms such as these can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common disorder that interrupts sleep. Sufferers are often unaware that they have the condition. When humans fall asleep, fatty tissue in the back of the throat relaxes and blocks the airway to the lungs. When the brain realizes it is not getting enough oxygen, it wakes you just enough for the throat to open so airflow is restored. This can happen hundreds of times during the night.
Children are typically referred to a sleep center by their primary physician or pediatrician, but can also be referred by a specialist in pulmonary medicine, cardiology, surgery, neurology, otolaryngology, dentistry or pain medicine. Physicians can request that a sleep specialist first evaluate their patients for their sleep-related complaints prior to sending them to have a study.
The sleep study
Children arrive at a sleep study center with a parent a couple of hours prior to their study so they have time to get comfortable, change into their clothes and prepare for bed. At some centers, like the one at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, patients can relax prior to going to bed in a lounge that features amenities such as a flat-screen TV. Prior to falling asleep, a sleep technologist attaches the monitoring devices that will help determine the patient’s sleep patterns. The electrodes are small and designed to be as comfortable as possible. At Saint Peter’s, children spend the night in a larger room that contains a recliner that converts into a single bed so that a parent or guardian can stay with them. Children under 18 must have an adult with them during a sleep study.
A sleep specialist analyzes the data collected overnight to determine the duration and quality of sleep as well as the cause(s) of any sleep interruptions, especially the cessation of breathing. The interpreting physician summarizes the findings and makes recommendations for treatment.
As we all know, you can never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep to your health. It is essential to all body functions and also helps with stress management. If your child is experiencing any symptoms mentioned here, take them to see their doctor right away.
Courtesy of The Center for Sleep and Breathing Disorders at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, which is fully accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The center located in the hospital, features state-of-the-art digital technology that monitors multiple functions, including brain activity, heart rhythm, leg and jaw movement, respiration and airflow, rapid eye movement (REM) and blood oxygen levels. For more information about sleep apnea and other disorders or to schedule a sleep study, call Saint Peter’s University Hospital’s Center for Sleep and Breathing Disorders at (732) 937-6055.