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Tuesday, 14 May 2002

Sleep disorders and children

In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of sleep, particularly in infants and children.

Doctors at the Sleep Medicine Unit at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick estimate that 20 to 30% of children in the general population have significant difficulties sleeping.

'It is important for parents to consider how poor sleep may be adversely impacting on their child's health', said Dr Jim Papadopoulos, Fellow at the Sleep Medicine Unit.

'Some children have no difficulty falling asleep but awaken several times during the night, whereas others have great difficulty falling asleep but once asleep, sleep straight through. Others have problems both settling and waking at night', said Dr Papadopoulos.

The factors underlying sleep disturbance may vary with a child's age. In infancy, sleep may be disturbed by colic, allergies, gastro-oesophageal reflux or teething, as well as too frequent nighttime feeds.

In early childhood (1 to 3 years), inappropriate napping and the adequacy of the bedtime routine, wind-down period, and limit setting may all affect your child's sleep patterns. This is a time when associations with bedtime become important. In general, children should not be put to bed too early, as this can lead to them waking up early in the morning.

Sleeplessness at this age can also be attributed to snoring and sleep apnoea. Snoring effects about 10% if children. When occurring nightly and in association with pauses in the breathing as well as struggling for breath, referral to the Sleep Medicine Unit might be needed to exclude obstructive sleep apnoea. The problem can persist to later childhood and impact on learning and behaviour.

In middle childhood (4 to 12 years) some of the early childhood problems may persist, as other issues become relevant. These may include over-arousal at bedtime, nighttime fears and stress or worry. Waking at night is unusual but sleep may be interrupted by snoring, sleep walking, sleep talking, nightmares, teeth grinding or growing pains.

High rates of sleeplessness are reported in adolescence. Teenagers may be affected by erratic sleep-wake schedules, delayed sleep phase syndrome (their body clock has been reset so that they can not sleep early but also can not wake early), worry, and social factors such as the consumption of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. The problems may be made worse by the fact that teenagers actually need more not less sleep.

The Sleep Medicine Unit at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick provides a comprehensive assessment, management and advisory service to children with sleep and related problems.

The Unit provides a service for children with sleep abnormalities, sleep breathing and sleep related problems including apnoea, parasomnias (eg. night terrors and nightmares), behavioural sleep problems, snoring, risk assessment for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and narcolepsy.

For Further Information Contact:

Catharina Boer, Public Affairs Manager Tel: 9382 3571 - Mob: 0411 730 842

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