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Sleep, Interrupted

While bedtime battles are common in many households, for some children there could be something else at work: about 20 percent of children suffer from some sort of sleep disorder.

What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which there is a regular, momentary stopping of breath during sleep. These stoppages can lead to sleep disruptions and falls in blood oxygen levels. Some warning signs of sleep apnea in children are:
* High blood pressure
* Weight gain
* Dry or sore throat in the morning
* Morning headaches
* Snoring or stoppages in breath during sleep
* Undue sleepiness during the day or difficulty falling asleep

Sleep apnea can be resolved by removing the tonsils or adenoid glands, or by using positive airway pressure devices.

Other common sleep problems include behavioral insomnia—resisting going to bed; excessive daytime sleepiness, which may be caused by insufficient sleep or more serious conditions; and parasomnias, such as sleepwalking and night terrors.

Children need adequate and quality sleep to remain healthy during childhood and into adolescence and adulthood. Not sleeping enough or not sleeping well can lead to:
* Poor concentration and inability to complete a task or make decisions
* Altered behaviors and changes in mood
* Inability of the body to metabolize glucose
* Impaired immune system
* Becoming accident-prone

How is a sleep problem diagnosed?
There are several ways to diagnose a sleep problem, starting with patient history and physical exams. Some sleep disorders require additional tests. These disorders can be effectively treated to ensure that your child stays healthy. If you think your child may be suffering from a sleep disorder, contact your pediatrician.

How can healthy sleeping habits in children be established?
* Maintain a healthy weight.
* Have a consistent bedtime routine – go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
* Avoid or limit late afternoon naps for children past preschool age.
* Use the bedroom only for sleeping.
* Exercise regularly during the day but not in the evening.
* Avoid television, computer, and video games one to two hours before bedtime.

DR. ZORAN DANOV is medical director of the Pediatric Sleep Program at the University of Kentucky Good Samaritan Hospital.

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