Pediatric Sleep Disorders

The UVA Sleep Disorders Center evaluates sleep disorders in infants, children and adolescents during wakefulness and sleep. We diagnose and treat children with sleep-disordered breathing and other sleep-related problems.

Snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Snoring or obstructive sleep apnea is a relatively common problem in children of all ages, from infants to adolescents, but it peaks between 2 to 6 years, along with a secondary peak in adolescence. Boys and girls are equally affected.

Children with obstructive sleep apnea will often have:

  • Loud snoring¬†
  • Difficulty breathing (their chest seems to suck in while trying to breathe)
  • Intermittent snorts and gasps

The disrupted sleep can lead to excessive sleepiness during the day (falling asleep in school). In some children, the disrupted sleep will cause hyperactivity, irritability and difficulty in school. Other problems can include failure to gain weight and high blood pressure.

Risk Factors

All children are at risk to develop obstructive sleep apnea, but those at increased risk include children with:

  • Large tonsils and adenoids
  • Obesity¬†
  • Down's syndrome
  • Craniofacial abnormalities
  • Neuromuscular weakness

Apparent Life-Threatening Events (Near-Miss SIDS)

Infants with an apparent life-threatening event have a sudden and alarming change in behavior. The event can happen during wakefulness, sleep or feeding. The caretaker will often describe a change in color, a change in body tone, choking or gagging. There are many causes for these events, including infection, a seizure, irregular heart beat or gastroesophageal reflux. These infants may need evaluation in the Sleep Disorders Center to determine the cause of the event.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy causes people to have overwhelming daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy can begin before the age of 10 or as late as the age of 50, but gradual onset between 15 and 35 years is typical.

Sleepwalking and Related Symptoms

Sleepwalking, talking, screaming and other behaviors during sleep may be frightening and disruptive to the family. All of these events occur during a partial waking from non-REM sleep.

Until age 5 or 6, most of these episodes are developmental (a normal maturation of a child's sleep stages not usually caused by physical or emotional problems). In an older child, these events aren't developmental. Underlying emotional factors now are likely to be relevant, especially if the symptoms are frequent.