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Children and Sleep

July 09, 2012

Don’t get too excited – I don’t have the answer for getting a baby to go to sleep. This is part two of my report from the recent American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine conference. There was actually a lot of interesting discussion on children and teenagers sleep patterns and snoring in children. Here are the interesting things that were reviewed:

1. There are an increasing number of infants, children and teenagers being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder where breathing is interrupted during sleep. Many of these children may have been incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD. The reason for the increase in OSA is unclear, but the following things may help identify those who have it:

*snoring more than three times a week
*allergies, frequent colds or habitual mouth breathing
*large tonsils and adenoids
*being born prematurely
*obesity
*long narrow faces and crowding in the front teeth
*daytime sleepiness
*bedwetting

If your child snores, you should discuss the situation with their pediatrician, an ear-nose-throat specialist or a dentist who understands sleep disturbances. Many times a combination of tonsillectomy and adenoid removal along with jaw expansion is successful at eliminating snoring, creating changes in the jaw and face, expanding the nasal passages and reducing daytime sleepiness.

2. There was discussion about teenagers and how their natural sleep patterns vary from adults. The average adolescent requires 10 hours of sleep per night, however, at least two-thirds of those adolescents get less than an average of seven hours of sleep. Many sleep very little during the school week and then make up their lost sleep by sleeping extra hours on the weekend just to get to seven hours.

3. One reason teenagers suffer from sleep disturbances is because their circadian rhythms (their internal clock that regulates sleep) does not coincide with their school pattern. Teenagers are naturally programmed to sleep late in the morning and not go to bed until very late at night. However, when school starts early, it requires teenagers to wake before their final REM phase has completed. This final REM phase is critical because memory consolidation and other important functions occur in it. This constant interruption in sleep can cause issues with school performance, lead to daytime sleepiness and affect growth and development.

While many of the signs of lack of sleep like excessive irritability, mood swings and difficulty concentrating can be mistaken for just being a teenager, it is important to be aware of the signs. When the previous signs are coupled with a craving for carbohydrates, sudden shifts in feeling hot and cold, or odd sensations of having things crawling on their skin, you might begin to suspect a sleep disturbance in a teenager.

4. OSA, narcolepsy and delayed sleep pattern are the three most common sleep disorders found in teenagers. As with snoring in children, if you suspect a sleep problem, seek professional help. There are many local sleep centers with specially trained sleep physicians that diagnose and treat sleep issues.

5. The final topic that is worthy of mentioning is sleep hygiene. While it sounds like a strange term, it refers to developing and following healthy sleep habits. Many teenagers, and adults alike, sleep poorly due to overstimulation from TV, phones and computers prior to sleep. For example, the light from computers is a stimulant that wakes you, like mimicking daylight in the morning, so using a computer or texting before bedtime can interfere with the time it takes to fall asleep. Next week I will post 12 Rules for Sleep Hygiene.

Remember, if you or a loved one snores or suffers from daytime sleepiness, speak to a professional to determine possible causes and treatment.

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