Pediatricians May Miss Your Child's Sleep Problems

Parents should be vigilant for signs that their child isn't getting enough shut-eye.

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Don't count on the doctor to realize that your child may be suffering from insomnia, sleep apnea, or excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep problems are a common issue for children and their parents, yet pediatricians diagnose sleep problems in children just about 4 percent of the time.

But parents also might be missing that a child's crankiness or hyperactivity may stem from sleep problems, according to Lisa Meltzer, a psychologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's sleep center. She's the lead researcher of a new study in Pediatrics, which examined the medical records of 154,957 children who went to the pediatrician for a well-child visit in 2007, and found that sleep just wasn't on the doctors' radar. "Sleep should be a priority for the family," Meltzer told me. "Sleep is an important part of function. It's needed for growth, development, learning."

[Read Kids and Sleep: Why They Need More.]

Parents need to be aware of how common sleep problems are, and how much poor shut-eye can interfere with a child's waking life. Here are the most common sleep problems in children:

  • Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep affects 20 to 30 percent of babies and toddlers, and 5 percent of school-age children.
  • Up to 27 percent of children have trouble with snoring, and 1 to 3 percent of all children have obstructive sleep apnea, which can seriously interfere with sleep quality.
  • Teenagers often have trouble going to bed early enough to get a good night's sleep, not because they're being rebellious, but because it's physiologically difficult for them. Their body clocks have changed, making it tough to get up before dawn to catch the bus, and difficult to sack out at 10 p.m., despite the fact that teenagers still need at least 8 hours of sleep.
  • "It's important for parents to put sleep on the radar," Meltzer says, because sleep problems can be treated successfully, and sleep problems usually don't resolve on their own. I recently wrote about how to help teenagers get the sleep they need, and about a clever online baby tracker that helps parents figure out children's sleep patterns. Now, if only parents could figure out how to get more sleep!

    [Read 10 Ways to Get Better Sleep (and Maybe Cure Your Insomnia).]