When will she ever really sleep?

Q: Our daughter is 6 and still isn’t sleeping through the night!  

A: Sleep problems are common in kids. Such disturbances in sleep — falling asleep, staying asleep, awakening early and restless sleep — can impact the whole family, not just at night, but throughout the day. 

While there are many learned behavioral issues that can lead to children not sleeping through the night — and also unrealistic parental expectations for sleep — many other factors can lead to or exacerbate sleep delays or fragmented sleep.

That includes health issues, developmental factors and mental or emotional concerns, too.

The first step in finding solutions is discussing the sleep problem with your child’s health-care provider. 

You may be asked to provide information about your child’s diet, school schedules, activities and exercise, as well as sleep location(s), timing, environmental factors (other people/children in the room, temperature and lighting), bedtime-readiness rituals and technology use.

Clinicians may also ask about night terrors or nightmares, coughing or wheezing, snoring and/or apparent breath holding, unusual movements, sleep walking or other sleep-related behaviors.

Your child’s emotional health may come up as well, including discussions about anxiety and depression, attention issues or hyperactivity. Children who suffer from stress or concern for their safety can also experience sleep issues. 

Evaluation by a sleep specialist may be needed along with help from other specialists including psychologists, otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat clinicians), pulmonologists or neurologists. 

Sleep labs can also offer assistance in some cases. In a sleep lab, staff — such as cardiopulmonary technologists — can document a child’s physical and vital-sign responses (breathing rate, heart rate, oxygen levels and, potentially, brain-wave activity) to better understand a child’s sleep disruption. 

No one-size intervention to correct sleep problems can be used due to the multitude of reasons that may be contributing individually or in combination to sleep disturbances.

I recommend you start by reaching out to your child’s health-care clinician, so you can all get some much needed rest!

For more information on the Children’s Sleep Center Clinic and Diagnostic Sleep Lab in St. Paul — including photos of a child undergoing treatment —  see tinyurl.com/sleep-lab-mn.


Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to gchawla@mnparent.com.