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By: Kevin Asp on June 15th, 2016

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Pediatric Sleep Disorders: Tips for Technologists

Sleep Medicine


Did you know that sleep disturbances are seen in as many as 25 to 30 percent of infants and children?

This article draws heavily from the A2Zzz article "Basics of Pedriatric Sleep and Scoring" by authors Joel Porquez, BS, CCSH, RST/ RPGST and Laree Fordyce, RST, RPSGT, CCRP. To read the full article see the A2Zzz.

When testing pediatric patients in your sleep laboratory, you should keep in mind that children should not be treated as adults. They have very different needs based on their age and stage of development. This unique population spans from newborns to adolescence. 

Pediatric sleep problems range from insufficient sleep, bedtime settling problems, sleepwalking, sleep apnea and even to narcolepsy. Depending on the sleep problems young patients are experiencing the healthcare provider may recommend a sleep study for the child.

Performing pediatric sleep studies can be extremely challenging and test your patience as a technologist. Children are often scared and don’t know how to express their needs. Additionally, many of the referrals you will see are children with special needs such as those with pervasive developmental disorder or Down syndrome.

The caregivers are your patients too as they are involved in every step of the process. It is important to learn to effectively communicate with caregivers as they can be your greatest resource. 

Basics of pediatric sleep that are beneficial for sleep technologists:

  • Have equipment for smaller-sized patients and a child-friendly environment with accommodations for the caregivers.
  • Utilize the time when infants wake up every 2-3 hours for diaper changes and feedings to correct any electrode or sensor problems.
  • Be aware that total sleep time decreases as the child grows older.
  • Know that children spend the majority of the night in delta/Stage N3 sleep after sleep onset.
  • EEG patterns start to become more predictable with brain maturation.

And as a sleep technologist you may encounter the following questions from caregivers and parents.

Why does my child need to have a sleep study?

Whether it's night terrors or sleepwalking, the reality is that sleep problems mostly do not disappear on their own.  Early identification and recognition of your child's sleep problem is critical to his or her health.

We often see that parents understand their children's sleep problems based on their own familial and cultural experiences, so what is actually is seen by one family as a sleep disorder can be normal for another.

There are two general types of sleep problems in children; behavioral and physiological.  Physical and behavioral problems often exist together within a patient.  For instance, a sleep disorder can lead to additional health problems.  Behavioral problems usually disappear on their own, but if there a physiological problem involved, a sleep physician may recommend a sleep study.

Here are two instances of children in a sleep center setting with unusual sleep disorders.

Clinical and polysomnographic features of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) in children

Pediatric case involving a young male patient with restless sleep, periodic limb movements and a few central apneas

How do I prepare my child for a sleep study?

We recommend that that parents make it a fun night with their child, since parents usually sleep in the sleep center room with their child.  Here are some tips on how you can convince your child that you are both on a sleep adventure:

  • Wear matching pajamas.
  • Order take-out food.
  • Tell them that they can stay up as late as they like.

Doing any or all of the above can help take the pressure off of your child.  Keep in mind that the purpose of the sleep study is to find out what happens to your young patient at night, so encourage your parents to help their child relax and embrace the study.

Other tips for sleep technologists on preparing young patients in your sleep center:

Tell your patient that the same rules apply in the sleep center as in their home; if they are allowed to jump on the bed at home, they can do that here.

Encourage your patient to also bring anything from home that helps them feel at ease, such as pillows, blankets and sheets.

Make sure that your sleep center is child-friendly and has video games, board games, magazines, toys and even a phone available they want to call home. 

If you are currently performing pediatric sleep studies or are considering adding pediatrics in your sleep center, specialized training is recommended given that children have very different needs and cannot be treated as little adults. To be successful at performing and scoring pediatric sleep studies also requires a unique knowledge base and skill set. 

Want to learn more about how your sleep center can better accomodate young patients? Check out The New Sleep Center Model - Pediatrics: How to Grow it and What to Know

Sleep technologists, what does your sleep center do to make young patients feel welcome?

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About Kevin Asp

Because of the implementation of his best practices of Implementing Inbound Marketing in its Medical Practice, he turned the once stagnant online presence of Alaska Sleep Clinic to that of "The Most Trafficked Sleep Center Website in the World" in just 18 months time.

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