“We’re still providing the same multidisciplinary, child-centered care for kids, but now we can serve more children at once,” said Heidi Connolly, M.D., chief of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We have six rooms – two more than before – and we can do sleep studies with two infants and two children who require hospital beds in the same night.”
The center’s exam rooms are all handicap-accessible and double as sleep lab rooms at night, not only economizing on space, but also giving children some consistency. When they come for a sleep study, they come to a familiar place where they know the rooms, the toys and the staff. The beds are stored in the exam rooms, and curious children and parents can check them out ahead of time so they’re more comfortable when they come back for a sleep study. Every room has a bed for a parent to stay with their child, and every room has a private bathroom.
The sleep clinic is now doing 2,500 office visits and 1,200 sleep studies, annually, with children from across upstate New York. Even though those numbers are expected to grow with the expansion, the wait time for getting in for an appointment is expected to drop within two weeks by the end of the calendar year. Since opening in 2007, the clinic, which is dedicated to treating only children and their families, has grown to include two pediatric sleep medicine physicians, a child psychiatrist and three pediatric nurse practitioners.
The clinic’s most common referrals are for sleep apnea and snoring. Children with sleep apnea don’t always stay in a deep sleep because sleep is interrupted by struggling to breathe. Connolly said that children who don’t sleep well may have trouble focusing in school or may have behavior problems. Sleep is also important to brain development, learning and the immune system. In fact, Connolly said that even growth is affected by sleep.
“It isn’t uncommon for a patient receiving treatment for sleep apnea to have a growth spurt.” Connolly said this is because the growth hormone is released during sustained deep sleep. For all of these reasons, sleep problems in childhood should be addressed promptly, Connolly added. The clinic also helps families deal with children who have difficulty settling in to sleep, those who always need another hug, another glass of water and another bathroom run. Connolly said the clinic can also help children with chronic bedwetting problems.
Insomnia is surprisingly common in children, and with recent research news about the role sleep plays in cognition, heart health and longevity, it’s important to head off insomnia in children as soon as it appears.
In addition to sleep medicine specialists who can evaluate any potential medical causes of insomnia, the sleep clinic’s child psychiatrist can help identify and treat any potential mental-health causes.
Connolly said children with developmental disabilities, such as autism or ADHD, commonly have sleep problems and they shouldn’t be brushed aside as families focus on issues that seem more pressing. Learning good sleep habits (and parents may need some extra help to help them) can help children and their families address other medical and educational issues.
“We hired Child Psychiatrist Laura Cardella because when the causes of insomnia in children aren’t medical, they are often mental-health causes, and she can help those children,” Connolly said. “A large percentage of our children with insomnia have anxiety.”
To make an appointment with the Pediatric Sleep Clinic, please call (585) 340-8949.