Sleep Testing in Children

What is Pediatric Sleep Testing?

Pediatric sleep testing or a pediatric sleep study is a method to record the activity of a child’s body during sleep to detect any sleep-related issues. It is painless and conducted in a hospital or clinic setting.

Up to 50 percent of all children suffer from sleep-related issues ranging from insufficient sleep, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, bedtime settling problems, and narcolepsy. Hence, it is imperative to identify sleep-related issues at an early stage to prevent any negative effects, such as the following:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Learning difficulties
  • Poor academic performance
  • Behavioral problems
  • Irritability
  • Loud snoring

Indications for Pediatric Sleep Testing

Adequate sleep is essential for a child’s body to conserve energy, restore normal processes, stimulate mental development, and promote physical development. To ensure these significant functions and to diagnose and treat sleep disorder symptoms, pediatric sleep testing is indicated. Diagnosing and treating sleep disorders are essential to the health of a child.

Common Sleep Problems in Children

Some of the common sleep disorders noted in children include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA is a common problem in children that interrupts breathing with upper airway obstruction and disrupts the normal sleep pattern. OSA typically occurs as a result of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Snoring is the most common symptom.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS): RLS is a condition characterized by unpleasant leg sensations that prompt children to move their legs repeatedly. Other symptoms include restlessness, irritability, difficulty falling asleep, and bedtime resistance.
  • Parasomnias: Parasomnias affect around 50 percent of children and are characterized by unpleasant events that occurs during a child’s sleep. Common symptoms include sleepwalking, nightmares, sleep terrors, and sleep talking.
  • Delayed sleep phase disorder: Also known as delayed sleep phase syndrome, this is a disorder in which a child’s sleep pattern is deferred or delayed by 2 or more hours past bedtime causing difficulty in waking up at the intended time. Most children with this disorder claim to function better and be more alert during evening or night hours, and describe themselves as “night owls.”

Preparation for Pediatric Sleep Testing

Pediatric sleep testing is normally conducted overnight and the following steps need to be followed ahead of time:

  • On the day of the study ensure your child is bathed.
  • Do not apply any moisturizer or lotion to your child’s body.
  • Have your child refrain from consuming foods and drinks containing caffeine, such as colas, chocolates, or coffee.
  • If your child is on medication, make sure to bring it with you.
  • Ensure that your child is not suffering from any illness such as a cough, cold, fever or congestion, as these can interfere with the accuracy of the sleep test.
  • Bring things that are normally part of your child’s bedtime ritual, such as toys, books or sleepwear to keep your child comfortable.
  • As you are also required to stay overnight in the clinic, bring your own sleepwear and other items required for your own sleep.

Procedure for Pediatric Sleep Testing

Pediatric sleep testing is usually performed overnight in a sleep clinic or a sleep lab, and your child can go home the following morning. In general, the procedure involves the following:

  • Once your child arrives at the sleep clinic, a designated sleep technician will receive your child, measure your child’s vital signs, and prepare your child for bedtime.
  • Once your child is asleep, the technician will place sensors on your child’s head, chin, chest, stomach, legs, and around the eyes.
  • The sensors are secured with gauze, tape, gel, or a special mesh to prevent dislodgement during the study. The sensors enable the technician to record your child's muscle and brain activity throughout the night.
  • The technician then places 2 pulse oximeter sensors on the toes or fingers to record your child’s oxygen levels.
  • The technician will place a tiny pair of tubes into your child’s nostrils, attached to a slender air hose. This is called a nasal cannula, and records carbon dioxide and airflow levels.
  • All the attachments on your child’s body are connected to a computer that records information, such as eye movement, muscle movement, brain wave activity, heart rate and rhythm, breathing, and stages of sleep.

Post Pediatric Sleep Testing Care

After the sleep test is completed, the sensors will be removed from your child’s body in the morning and you may leave the clinic. The results of the testing will be sent either to you or your child’s healthcare provider. Results may require many days or even weeks. Once the results are available, you should follow up with your child’s doctor to discuss the results and any changes that need to be made to your child’s care accordingly.