6 Jul 2015

Does your child have a sleep disorder?

From Morning Report, 7:25 am on 6 July 2015

Up to 5 percent of children are estimated to suffering from breathing sleep disorders preventing them getting a good night's rest.

Paediatric sleep disorders are thought to affect 15,000 children in Auckland alone, but there are no firm figures, and no national plan to tackle the problem.

Acting Health Correspondent Gareth Thomas reports.

Doctor Alex Bartle, who runs a network of Sleep Well clinics, said a lot was known about snoring in adults but not about sleep disorders in children.

Dr Liz Edwards of Starship Hospital

Dr Liz Edwards of Starship Hospital.


"I think it's a bit of a shock to a lot of people to think that children can have this thing that has traditionally been (associated with) fat, middle-aged males. I mean that's absolutely true, they do have sleep apnoea, but it's much broader than that.

Obstructive sleep apnoea in adults can easily be identified by the noise of snoring but it is more difficult to spot in children.

Dr Liz Edwards, a respiratory paediatrician and sleep specialist at Auckland's Starship Hospital, said children showed different symptoms and unlike adults did not always clearly snore.

"There may be heavy breathing or noisy breathing that might not be recognised. You think of sleep apnoea in adults, you tend to think of sleepy, drowsy adults, whereas in children who sleep too little or poorly because of airway problems, they're more likely to be wired or inattentive than drowsy".

Dr Edwards says the problem can be hard to identify at home.

"Sometime we have referrals of families where this has gone unrecognised for some time, and it's not until they go away on holiday and they're sleeping in the same room as the child they've actually realised this is happening".

Risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnoea include obesity and the structure of upper airways, says Angela Campbell, manager of University of Otago's WellSleep, a sleep investigation centre.

Angela Campbell of the University of Otago.

Angela Campbell of the University of Otago.


"One (risk factor) is what the upper airway looks like, said Ms Campbell.

"So, whether they've got a very small airway and maybe nose and mouth and maybe very large tonsils blocking the airway space at the back of their throat'.

"But we also know that obstructive sleep apnoea is associated with obesity".

Specialists say there is no hard data on paediatric sleep disorders but plenty of anecdotal evidence that suspected problems are rising.

But with limited sleep medicine services for children, is it something health leaders really want to know?

Angela Campbell believes they do. "Kids are our future and really focusing on their health and ensuring they get the best start is really key," she said.

"So yes we do want to know and we want to help these children. But it's also a matter of prioritising.

The paediatric society has been working recently to create some guidelines for health professionals".

Ms Campbell said it was important for all children to get a good night's sleep.

"It's certainly important children with sleep apnoea get enough sleep time, and to make sure they don't do anything before bedtime to prolong sleep onset".

Clinicians will be urging GPs to screen for sleep problems in children, because conditions are often not mentioned by parents.