Healthy Sleep in Children

Sleep is very important for children and essential for your child’s growth and health.  Studies have shown that many children do not get enough sleep each night.  Consequences of not enough sleep include poor school performance and problems growing and achieving a healthy weight.  Your child may need more sleep if he exhibits the following behaviors:

  •  Difficulty getting up in the morning
  •  Falling asleep during school
  •  Acting out or hyperactivity (which can sometimes be misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD)

Sometimes your child may not be getting enough sleep due to a sleep disorder.  One of the most common sleep disorders in children is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
Signs of OSA in Children:

  •  Loud snoring
  •  Mouth-breathing
  •  Restless sleeping
  •  Night sweats
  •  Hyperactivity

Risk Factors for OSA in Children:

  •  Having enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  •  Being overweight
  •  Having certain genetic or neuromuscular disorders

There are other sleep disorders that can affect children such as Restless Legs Syndrome or Narcolepsy.  It’s important to speak with your child’s health care provider if you think that your child might have OSA or another sleep disorder.  We work closely with health care providers to ensure your child is receiving the best treatment possible.

What’s normal sleep behavior for a toddler?

Most parents would agree that the most delightful toddler sleep behavior is peaceful snoozing. But your toddler might do all sorts of other things while asleep – some of which might seem strange, even alarming. Most are perfectly normal and no cause for concern, but a few are worth checking into.

Snoring, snorting, and mouth breathing

If your sleeping toddler snores, makes snorting sounds, or breathes through her mouth, you should let her doctor know. If she snores once in a while or only when she has a cold or a stuffy nose, your doctor will probably say she’s fine. But because snoring can signal other problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics says you should always check it out with her doctor to be on the safe side.

If a stuffy nose is to blame, try using a vaporizer or humidifier to make breathing more comfortable. If your toddler has pet allergies, keeping her bedroom free of pets may help.

If your toddler snores loudly, pauses between breaths, seems to work hard to breathe, or gasps as she tries to catch her breath, she may have a potentially serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea.

The most common causes of sleep apnea in children are enlarged tonsils and adenoids (the glands in the throat just behind the nose). Other factors include being overweight and having certain facial characteristics, such as a receding chin and cleft palate.

Sleep apnea peaks between the ages of 3 and 6, when the tonsils and adenoids are at their largest in comparison to child-sized airways. But children younger than 3 can also have this condition.

Because the condition disrupts sleep, you may notice that your child tends to be sleepy during the day when she should be alert. A child with sleep apnea is also more likely to be cranky and irritable, and she may have behavior problems.

If you’re not sure that your child has sleep apnea, record your child’s breathing while she’s sleeping and bring the recording to your child’s doctor. If your doctor thinks your child’s snoring should be checked out further, he may refer you to a specialist – an ear, nose, and throat doctor or a sleep expert – to assess your child’s breathing.

The specialist may recommend a sleep study. This is a test done at a sleep laboratory in a hospital. Your child’s breathing, heart rate, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels will be monitored during sleep to determine if there’s a problem that requires treatment. If she has a sleep disturbance that is caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids, the doctor may suggest removing them – a relatively simple operation that may solve the problem.

If this simple surgery doesn’t work or your doctor thinks the surgery isn’t a good choice for your child, he might suggest oral appliance therapy (OAT) which we offer at San Diego Sleep Therapy. Another alternative treatment is called CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure. Your child will wear a mask to bed that delivers a steady supply of air through her nose so she can breathe comfortably. If your child’s sleep apnea is caused by her being overweight, we will work with your doctor to help you modify her diet.

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