Does Your Child Need a Sleep Study? Here’s What You Need to Know

learn how to prepare for a pediatric sleep studyDo you ever wonder if your child might benefit from a sleep study? Or, has your child already been scheduled for one? You might wonder what is involved and how to make your child more comfortable during this procedure. You might also wonder whether your child will be able to tolerate the necessary sensations for the study. This information should help.

A sleep study helps you and your child’s doctor find out more about your child’s sleep quality and helps diagnose any possible sleep disorders such as sleep apnea (breathing pauses during sleep) or narcolepsy.

Some simple preparation will help you and your child have the best experience possible.

How to prepare your child for the sleep study

Some children are sensitive to sensations. Below is a description of the sensations that your child will need to be able to tolerate.

  • Sticky pads are placed on the head (to find out what kind of sleep your child is getting) and on either side of the eyes (to find out when your child is dreaming)
  • A stretchy “hat” is placed on head (to hold the sticky pads on your child’s head in place)
  • A sticky pad is placed over the heart on the chest (to monitor your child’s heart rate and rhythm)
  • A Band-aid style oxygen monitor is wrapped around a toe or finger (to monitor your child’s oxygen level)
  • A stretchy belt is wrapped around the chest and the stomach (to monitor your child’s breathing effort)
  • Soft, short, small tubes are placed in nostrils (this is called a nasal cannula) and a flow sensor is taped under nose (to monitor the flow of air coming in and out of your child’s nose)
  • A small microphone is taped to neck (to listen for snoring)

This set-up process takes half an hour to an hour and your child can watch a video or read a book during this time. None of these sensations cause any pain but they can be hard for some children to adjust to. The nasal cannula is often the hardest thing for a child to get used to.

Desensitizing your child at home before the sleep study

Try to help your child get used to these sensations at home before the sleep study night. Start by making a kit with some of the items that will be used for the sleep study:

  • Soft surgical tape (the kind that peels off easily and feels like cloth). This is available at most drug stores.
  • A roll of 2-inch wide gauze
  • A regular adhesive bandage (like a “BandAid”)
  • Some elastic bandages (like “Ace” bandages)
  • Some sticky electrode pads
  • A nasal cannula. The sleep center where your child will have the study is often willing to give you a spare sample of this if you stop in and request one.

Next, try doing a “sleep study set up” on yourself while your child watches, as follows:

  • Put some small pieces of tape on various places on your head.
  • Wrap some gauze around your head to make a “hat.” Try calling it a “ninja hat” or some other type of hat that would appeal to your child.
  • Wrap an adhesive bandage around your finger or toe to mimic the oxygen sensor.
  • Wrap a wide elastic bandage around your chest and stomach to mimic the respiratory effort belts.
  • Place the soft nasal cannula prongs into your nose and put a tiny piece of tape below your nose to hold it in place. Wrap the extra tubing behind your ears and snug it up by tightening the adjustment piece at the nape of your neck (or tighten it under your chin). It’s fine to cut off the rest of the plastic tubing.
  • Stick the electrode pad to your chest by your heart.

During all of this, model calmness and comfort. Remind your child that some of these things “might tickle, but they don’t hurt.” Your child can then re-use these items to do a “sleep study set up” on his or her favorite stuffed animal.

Lastly, you can do a practice “sleep study set up” on your child at home, adding each item one at a time (perhaps even over several days). Always combine this practice with an activity your child enjoys (having a snack or watching a favorite video).

While you are working on this, try to repeat key phrases such as:

  • “Only an adult puts these items on and only an adult takes these items off”
  • “These items might tickle but they don’t hurt”

The nasal cannula is often the most difficult item to adjust to and one that a child might try to pull off. When you put the nasal cannula on your child, be aware that it is especially important to remind your child that “only an adult puts this on and takes this off”. Again, always try to combine practice with the nasal cannula with something positive (in other words, something your child really likes (a warm cookie, a special video and so on). If your child does try to take the cannula off once you have put it on him or her, you can very briefly remove the positive thing that your child likes (for example, by pausing the video for a moment or waiting to give your child the second cookie) until your child allows you to replace the nasal cannula again.

Since these items will be presented gradually while being associated only with positive things, your child will very likely feel much more calm and comfortable on the night when he or she sees these items again in the sleep center.

What to bring on the sleep study night:

Most sleep centers will ask you to bring the following items:

  • Insurance card and parent’s photo identification
  • 2-piece sleepwear that is loose and comfortable. Cotton is preferred but not necessary.
  • Socks or slippers
  • Favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed toy
  • Favorite DVD or book
  • Medications, diapers, formula, food items needed at bedtime or in morning

What to do before the sleep study:

  • Follow a normal sleep routine during the day or two prior to the study
  • Avoid a long nap on the day of the study
  • Avoid caffeine for 48 hours prior to the study (chocolate, coffee, soda)
  • Eat dinner before arriving
  • Arrived bathed and with clean hair (no gels, hairspray or other oily substances)

Good luck with your child’s sleep study. If your child is well prepared, your reward will be an easy night in the sleep lab and high quality information about your child’s sleep!

Dr. Schneeberg is the director of the Behavioral Sleep Program at Connecticut Children’s Sleep Center.

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