A good night’s sleep is essential for proper childhood development and yet pediatric sleep disorders aren’t often talked about in parenting books and classes. Children can be afflicted by the same problems that adults have, though often with very different needs to resolve the issues. About 1 in 100 children are affected by a sleep disorder, causing secondary symptoms of daytime drowsiness, problems focusing in school, and more.
Gina’s daughter CC started experiencing problems with her sleep when she turned 2. A bright, happy young girl, CC’s problems began with bad dreams and overall troublesome sleep, characterized by tossing, turning and sweating. Her symptoms escalated to the point she experienced two seizures-like episodes, turning blue and saying she was choking. Despite CC’s carefree daily life, she continued to have problems sleeping and her mother sought help, first with her pediatrician and then at an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist.
Gina and CC are not alone, an even more alarming case is young Layne and his mother Nicole. Layne is 16 months old and only sleeps around 3 hours per day. Having other children, Nicole knew something was wrong and checked with her pediatrician, who dismissed Layne’s sleep as normal. Unconvinced, she searched for answers as her son’s problems seemed to increase; What began as short and inconsistent sleep cycles progressed into consistently shorter sleep cycles as brief as 20-40 minutes, accompanied by snoring. Even more startling were the night terrors young Layne would experience – screaming with eyes wide open, while still deep asleep. “When you can’t comfort your own child, you feel totally helpless.” Nicole continued her search for answers, consulting a new pediatrician in Michigan who provided a referral that would change everything.
Gina and Nicole were both finally referred to Dr. R. Bart Sangal of Sterling Heights for expert assessment. Dr. Sangal is one of Michigan’s leading experts on sleep disorders and scheduled both young children for a sleep study at his private sleep disorder facility. The results were enlightening: both young patients had sleep apnea. Not normally considered a childhood disorder, sleep apnea is a condition in which blocked or narrowed breathing passages cause sufferers to snore and stop breathing briefly while asleep. Untreated, the condition can lead to developmental and behavioral problems, including an increase in night terrors in a child who’s predisposed to them. If your child has night terrors and any of the symptoms below they should be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea. Treatment is dependent on several factors and can involve removal of adenoids or tonsils in cases where they’re enlarged, or the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.
“I urge parents to be aware of their children’s sleep patterns – oftentimes parents may not consider the symptoms to be the sign of something serious, but pediatric sleep disorders are just as detrimental as adult sleep problems” says Sangal, of the Sleep & Attention Disorders Institute in Sterling Heights. “A certain level of rambunctiousness and reticence before bedtime can be expected, parent should be mindful when certain symptoms emerge.”
Sleep disorder warning signs parents should look out for:
- Snoring. Snoring in children should always be considered a problem, and treated as such. Pediatric sleep apnea can be detrimental if left untreated, and treatment results are very successful.
- Daytime sleepiness.
- Severely unusual sleep patterns, such as consistent short sleep cycles.
- Insomnia/inability to sleep even in preferred locations such as near their parents. Children who beg to sleep in parents’ rooms are often seeking comfort and attention, and are usually satisfied and sleep well after getting their way. Those children who don’t may have a more serious problem affecting them.
- Nighttime hyperactivity that affects daily daytime activity.
Parents with children exhibiting the above symptoms are encouraged to make an appointment to see Dr. Sangal for an assessment and pediatric sleep study. During a sleep study, children and their parents spend the night in a comfortable room at Dr. Sangal’s sleep lab within the Beaumont Professional building in Sterling Heights. Sleep patterns are monitored through small, unobtrusive electrodes placed on the child’s body and the controlled environment factors out noise and distractions that may be affecting the child at home. “CC thought it was fun, and didn’t mind the funny ‘stickers’ at all” says Gina, “It was like staying in a hotel, and we got really great results from the test”. Sleep studies run overnight and are generally covered by insurance – Dr. Sangal’s office encourages those interested to call to verify if their insurance is accepted.
Layne’s mother Nicole says “If you think something may be wrong, there’s something wrong. If you don’t feel you’re getting the right answer, always get a second opinion.” In the case of pediatric sleep problems, the best choice is to always consult with a sleep disorder specialist in addition to your pediatrician.