A Breath of Fresh Air for Childhood Problems Just-for-Kids Sleep Centers Pinpoint What's Behind All of the Tossing, Turning and Snoring. Often, It's Bad Tonsils
Byline: Robert McCoppin
Matt Walicki couldn't get a good night's sleep. Neither could his parents.
Each night, the 10-year-old Buffalo Grove boy tossed and turned and kicked and woke repeatedly, then went to his parents' bed where he'd do it some more.
When his parents asked his doctor about it, they were surprised at the diagnosis: their son, with a history of allergies and throat infections, had enlarged tonsils that blocked his breathing at night.
The boy's tonsils were surgically removed, and according to his mother Joanna, "It's made an amazing difference. He sleeps through the night. He's more focused in school."
Decades after tonsillectomies fell out of favor as a routine treatment for throat infections - though it is still practiced for recurring cases - they are back as a cure for sleep disorders in children.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic estimate that twice as many tonsillectomies were performed in recent years as in the 1970s. In fact, the No. 1 treatment now for children who have trouble breathing while sleeping is to cut out their tonsils.
And as the significance of sleep disorders has become more recognized among adults, it's also being recognized more often in children. Doctors estimate one out of 10 children suffers from some form of sleep disturbance.
Sleep-disordered breathing in particular can produce daytime mood changes, inattention, decreased motivation and hyperactivity. As a result, some doctors say, sleep problems can contribute to or be misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder.
Sleep apnea, when someone sleeping temporarily stops breathing, isn't just for fat old men who snore. It affects about 2 percent of children as well.
That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that doctors screen all children for snoring and other problems sleeping.
And new sleep laboratories in the Chicago area are testing children to figure out why Johnny is grumpy and sleepy - and whether he needs to give up his tonsils.
In a small office in Streamwood, children are trying to sleep. While parents stay in an adjoining room, kids lie in brightly colored bedrooms decorated with butterflies and surfer dudes.
Small sensors are taped to their heads and limbs. An elastic belt around the chest measures breathing and a finger clip measures oxygen in the blood, while a camera records movement.
Wires lead to a small box transmitting data to a nearby control room.
There, a team of technicians tracks the child's sleep cycles via brainwaves, rapid eye movement, restless limbs, breathing and heart rate, oxygen supply, etc.
In the morning, the polysomnogram will be analyzed to see if the child has sleep-disordered breathing.
Partial airway blockage, for instance, might lead to hypopnea, in which a child gets less than half the normal air flow.
If the child's airway gets blocked completely, it cuts off respiration. The nervous system detects the problem and causes a surge in adrenaline, which raises blood pressure and jolts the sleeper awake.
For children with sleep apnea, this reaction happens again and again, causing long-term problems like hypertension and heart problems.
Finding a diagnosis
Snoring is a frequent symptom of sleep-disordered breathing. In adults, spouses often hear their partners with apnea snort awake as they struggle to resume breathing.
Snoring may be present in children as well, but by itself doesn't reveal whether a child has apnea.
For the most accurate diagnosis of a child's sleep patterns, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a sleep study as the "gold standard."
Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago was the first in the area to offer a comprehensive sleep center dedicated solely to children. …