New York Methodist Hospital | NYM Can Help Ease Your Child’s Sleepless Nights

Aug 11, 2010

Sleep problems in children can be one of parenting's biggest challenges. In the U.S., approximately two million children suffer from sleep disorders. Children who suffer from disruptive sleep patterns often fall victim to other problems associated with a lack of sleep such as daytime sleepiness, which affects 10 percent of all school aged children.

According to Sagarika Nallu, M.D., a pediatric neurologist and specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at NYM, sleep problems in children can be divided into behavioral issues and medical issues.

Behavioral issues involve problems like a child awakening and then needing to complete the night's sleep in the parents' bed. "Medical issues," said Dr. Nallu, "can range from sleep apnea to restless leg syndrome, and may also result from medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) or, occasionally from psychiatric conditions."

At New York Methodist Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center a team of experienced sleep-wake disorder specialists record and review a child's sleep history to determine whether a sleep study could help to diagnose or treat his or her problem. This may be followed by an onsite sleep laboratory evaluation. These overnight studies can help identify sleep apnea (a condition in which children stop breathing intermittently during the night), restless leg syndrome or other conditions. Based on the nature of the problem, the sleep specialist may suggest additional tests.

"Increased awareness has led to a dramatic increase in the number of pediatric sleep studies at NYM in recent years," said Jeremy Weingarten, M.D., director of NYM's Sleep Disorders Center.

Treatment of sleep disorders depends on the diagnosis. Dr. Nallu noted that the age of the child can help determine whether there is a sleep problem. "Young babies, under the age of eight months, are supposed to awaken during the night in order to feed," she said.

For children whose ADHA or other medications are causing sleep problems, adjustments are made in the medication. If sleep apnea is diagnosed, its cause (tonsil/adenoid issues, obesity, etc.) is addressed.

Sometimes sleep disorders can reveal an underlying medical problem; for example, restless leg syndrome is sometimes caused by iron deficiency. Other times, a behavior problem can reveal a sleep disorder. "When children don't get enough sleep they can become more energetic, and 'bounce off the walls,'" said Dr. Nallu. "I've seen cases where children are suspected of having ADHA, but once we diagnose and solve a sleep disorder, they are rested and able to focus and concentrate."