Pediatric Sleep Disorders

This information is useful for children
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our pediatric sleep medicine program is the regional leader in diagnosing and treating sleep problems in children.
  • Yale New Haven Children's Hospital has two child-friendly pediatric sleep labs (one in New Haven, one at Bridgeport Hospital).
  • We have board-certified physicians in pediatrics, pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine.

Sleeping problems are common in childhood. They are disruptive not only to children, but everyone else in the house, including parents and siblings. A child who can’t fall asleep, stay asleep or stay awake during daytime hours may have a sleep disorder. 

“Most parents would not tolerate if kids didn’t have enough calories to eat,” says Craig A. Canapari, MD, director of Yale Medicine's Pediatric Sleep Medicine Program and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. “Yet parents tolerate kids not getting enough sleep.” 

Trouble sleeping should be addressed as early as possible because sleep issues can impact a child's learning at school as well as a teenager's safety when driving, for example. Sleep disorders can occur as early as infancy and continue through adulthood. Diagnoses include insomnia, daytime sleepiness, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and snoring.

Our pediatric program can help children and their families to understand what’s causing sleep troubles and treat the problems with care that's tailored to the needs of young patients.

The term “pediatric sleep disorders” covers two quite different groups—respiratory and nonrespiratory conditions. Although patients from both groups may experience similar symptoms such as tiredness and interrupted sleep, doctors distinguish between nonrespiratory and respiratory causes.

Respiratory problems can be any kind of obstruction resulting in snoring, trouble breathing or sleep apnea. They also include complications from neuromuscular diseases or craniofacial anomalies.

The most common of the respiratory problems is obstructive sleep apnea, in which the upper airway collapses during the night. “Every time it collapses, your brain wakes up to open up your airway,” says Dr. Canapari. “Your brain keeps waking up. This fragments the sleep. Fragmented sleep is like getting not enough sleep.”

Nonrespiratory conditions include insomnia, daytime sleepiness, parasomnias (unusual behaviors during sleep such as night terrors, sleepwalking or nightmares) and restless leg syndrome. 

Nightmares are scary dreams that may wake up children and make them afraid to go back to sleep. What causes them is unclear, though they may be a result of something your child saw or heard that upset them—something that is real or make-believe.

Night terrors, which Dr. Canapari describes as a close cousin of sleepwalking, are a partial awakening and can include screaming, kicking, sleep walking, panic, mumbling and thrashing. Children's eyes are typically open and they can not be awakened or soothed. They usually occur in the first half of the night, a few hours after going to sleep, he says, and kids typically don't remember them the next day.  Only about 6 percent of children experience night terrors, Dr. Canapari says. 

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