Restful Nights: Help for Kids' Sleep Disorders

Is your child getting enough sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends school-age children and teenagers get between 8 and 11 hours of sleep each night. Not enough or poor sleep can reduce a child’s ability to learn and think, as well as interfere with proper immune system functioning.

According to David Seiden, M.D., medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Pembroke Pines, four sleep disorders that children most often encounter are delayed sleep phase syndrome, sleep walking, sleep apnea and bed wetting.

Sleepy Teens: Delayed Sleep Syndrome
Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a common condition among adolescents and teenagers, Dr. Seiden says. “This biological, age-related phenomenon is due to a delay in the internal circadian clock that makes it hard to fall asleep, which postpones the sleep cycle and wake up times,” he said. “Most teenagers’ biological clocks are set to delay going to sleep, but some kids are more sensitive to it. When it takes two to four hours to fall asleep every night, over time, the body becomes chronically sleep deprived. Not being able to wake up in the morning and poor school performance are often the result.”

Sleep Walking
Sleep walking, a sleep disorder most common among children ages 8 to 11 years old, usually occurs during the first third of the night when sleep is most likely to be deepest. Children can be found talking and walking around in their sleep but will not remember doing so the next day.

Dr. Seiden says the best course of action during a sleep walking episode is to bring the child back to bed instead of trying to wake him or her up. Waking them up will only cause confusion and further interruption to sleep, he says.

Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can occur when there is resistance in the upper airway which causes a decrease in air flow and pauses in breathing. According to Dr. Seiden, tonsils and adenoids that are larger in proportion to a small airway are the most common cause of sleep apnea in children. The oxygen shortage interrupts brainwave activity and these children can become chronically sleep deprived. Being tired is not always the main symptom.

“Chronic sleep deprivation in children often manifests as hyperactivity,” Dr. Seiden says. He recommends children being evaluated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a sleep study to determine or rule out an underlying sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

Bed Wetting
Bed wetting is considered a sleep disorder because it occurs during deep sleep when brain waves are slowest. It’s often genetic and usually occurs in children between the ages of 4 and 12 when the child’s arousal mechanism is not activated when the bladder is full. Severe cases can be treated with medication, but most children grow out of bed wetting as their neurological system develops, Dr. Seiden says.

Bed wetting is evaluated by a sleep specialist when the pediatrician wants to rule out underlying disorders, he adds.

Establishing Good Sleep Habits
Evaluations at sleep diagnostic centers can help identify the cause of sleep disorders. Dr. Seiden says most children’s sleep disorders can be overcome by adhering to proper sleep hygiene. The healthy sleep recommendations he makes for children and teens are similar to those advised for adults, including:

• Keep a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time consistently helps regulate the body’s circadian clock.
• Dim the lights and turn off TVs, computers and electronics one hour before bed time. “The stimuli and light from these devices are wake-promoting and interrupt the neuropathways to the brain that help induce sleep,” Dr. Seiden said.
• Avoid exercise and heavy physical activity 4-5 hours before bedtime. A drop in the body’s core temperature is a key to achieving deep sleep, and it takes time for the body to cool down after physical activity.
• Expose to natural sunlight within an hour of waking up in the morning. Step outside or near a window without sunglasses to gain the full effects.
• Limit caffeine intake. Adolescents and teens are drinking more caffeinated beverages these days, and the increased caffeine intake is affecting their sleep, says Dr. Seiden.

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