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Good Sleep Is Vital to Children’s Health

An occasional poor night’s sleep can make a moody adolescent even more so. But a persistent lack of sleep can lead to academic problems and even emotional and behavioral issues.

Teens need between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night — and younger children need even more. A lack of adequate sleep is linked to an increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, heart problems and other health problems.

The most common sleep disorder for adults and adolescents alike is called obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

OSA and your child’s sleep

OSA occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep. With adults, the leading cause of OSA is usually obesity; with children and adolescents, it’s often enlarged tonsils and adenoids.

Children and adolescents with OSA may:

  • Snore
  • Pause or stop breathing while asleep
  • Cough of choke in their sleep
  • Breathe through their mouths
  • Wet the bed
  • Experience sleep terrors

These disturbances keep your child or teen from getting the sleep they need. Perpetually exhausted children tend to act out more, have a harder time focusing, experience learning problems and be more hyperactive than their well-rested peers.

Diagnosing sleep problems for children and adolescents

The sooner a sleep disorder like OSA can be diagnosed, the sooner your child’s medical providers can get them the help they need to improve their growth, behavior and cognitive development.

Diagnosing a sleep disorder will include your input on their behavior and observances you’ve made while they sleep. It will also often mean keeping a sleep diary, recording their sleep and waking habits for about two weeks.

A sleep study is also an important step. During a sleep study — also called an overnight polysomnography, or PSG — a professional sleep technician can observe your child’s sleep, taking biometric readings during the night that can determine how well — or poorly — a child is sleeping.

At Tanner, specially outfitted pediatric sleep labs are available at the Tanner Center for Sleep Disorders locations in Carrollton and Villa Rica. The sleep labs are specially outfitted for a child or teen’s comfort.

Treating OSA for children and teens

Treatment for your child’s OSA is on a case-by-case basis, depending on each child’s age and needs. Nasal steroids and inhalers may be prescribed to keep airways open during sleep. The doctor might also recommend removing the tonsils or adenoids to improve breathing.

At home, the elimination of airway irritants is important. Scented air fresheners, candles or perfumes can exacerbate OSA by irritating the airway. Exposure to tobacco smoke also worsens OSA.

Encouraging healthy sleep habits is also important.

Learn more about the sleep services at Tanner at TannerSleep.org.

Tanner Medical Group, Children's Health Care, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine

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