Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: More On Sleep Disorders in Children

Category: Child Care


Another sleep related problem which is occasionally seen in infants and children is sleep apnea. This is frequently associated with obstructive type sleep apnea with loud snoring which can be heard all over the house. Occasionally, one sees retractions or difficult breathing in which the ribs are easily seen with each breath. The child may go through a cycle in which he has great difficulty breathing and seems to struggle for each breath. This diagnosis is common in children with an abnormally shaped palate or pharynx. In children with tremendous tonsil enlargement, this will occur.

Children who have mild, unnoticed sleep apnea may be cranky all the time, have difficulties in school and fall asleep a lot during the day. This is because they are not having sound sleep on a nightly basis.

Another form of sleep apnea can occur in patients who forget to breathe because of prematurity or abnormalities of the brain. These patients will go through cycles of apnea through the night, wake up, and then having apnea again. The best way to diagnose this is in a sleep lab in which the arterial oxygen of the blood is monitored. It will be seen to go down during sleep and go back up to normal on awakening.

This is potentially a life threatening condition and should be worked up in a sophisticated medical center sleep lab, and treated appropriately. Your pediatrician can refer you to the proper center for this. In prematures with sleep apnea a pneumogram can be done in one's home. This is a test which records breathing on a graph for several hours. It is then read by a trained person. If it is abnormal a sleep apnea alarm can be used until the child grows a little older and outgrows his sleep apnea. This is commonly done in prematures all over the country today. Finally, the last sleep problem which we rarely see in children, and more commonly found in adults, is narcolepsy. This is an individual who is sleepy all day and takes frequent naps because he has distorted, abnormal sleep all night and does not attain proper rest on a nightly basis. This is a difficult diagnosis to make. It should be studied in a good experienced sleep lab. There are medicines which can treat narcolepsy and any individual suspected of having it should be properly worked up and treated to prevent all of the life disruptions which it causes. There are also some other rare sleep disorders in children, infants and adults which can also be evaluated by sleep experts.