Sleep Medicine

Sleep Medicine is the diagnosis and treatment of sleep-related conditions and sleep disorders that can include problems breathing at night. Sleep disorders, such as problems falling asleep and sleep apnea, affect your child's ability to get the sleep needed for good growth, development and overall health. Sometimes, problems with sleeping contribute to learning, mood and behavior troubles during the daytime. Problems with sleep can also disrupt your entire family's life. We offer testing (sleep studies), treatment and consultation for sleep disorders that affect babies, children and young people up to age 21. Our program is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Seattle Children’s has the only sleep center in the region dedicated to caring for babies, children and teens. We perform all our sleep studies in a lab specially designed to accommodate children. Our facility is located in Bellevue, and is part of Seattle Children's at Overlake Medical Tower. We have designed the lab so that you or another adult family member has a place to stay with your child during the overnight sleep test.

In addition to doctors and nurses who specialize in caring for young people, our team includes registered polysomnographic technologists who monitor and interpret children's sleep studies.

Conditions We Treat

We see children with a broad range of sleep disorders, including:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your child's airway closes partway or all the way during sleep, blocking air from getting in. The drop in oxygen signals the brain to wake your child up, stopping your child from getting needed sleep. In children without other medical conditions, enlarged tonsils or adenoids most often cause the blockage. The problem is most likely to happen during sleep when the throat muscles and tongue are most relaxed. Read more.

  • Apnea refers to short pauses in breathing. Usually, these pauses are normal, but when they occur often and last longer than about 20 seconds, they can cause problems. In children with central sleep apnea, the part of the brain that controls breathing doesn't start or maintain the breathing process as it should. This condition can affect babies, especially those who are born early (premature), because the breathing control center in the brain is not fully developed.

  • Young people with excessive somnolence are often very sleepy during the daytime or sleep for very long periods at night. These disorders, sometimes called hypersomnia, are different from sometimes feeling tired after not getting enough sleep at night. Signs of this condition often appear during the teen years or early adulthood. Your child may nap a lot during the day, fall asleep at odd times, or find it very hard to wake up after a long sleep. Excessive somnolence may be caused by other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea.

  • Insomnias are disorders that make it very hard to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Most people have trouble sleeping once in a while. Babies and young children often wake up naturally during the night. But when children have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and the problem lasts a long time, a condition such as restless legs syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea may be the cause.

  • Narcolepsy causes sleepiness that can't be controlled. People with narcolepsy, including children and teens, have "sleep attacks." Even if they have had a normal night's sleep, they may fall asleep without any warning during the day. These sleep attacks last from several seconds to a half hour or more. Signs of narcolepsy often appear during the teen years.

  • Parasomnias are disruptions in your child's sleep. Night terrors may seem like nightmares, but they are far more intense. During a night terror, you may not be able to comfort your child. Signs of a night terror are sitting up in bed, shouting or screaming. During sleep walking, your child may seem confused or partly awake. They may either stay in bed or walk around without seeming to be aware of their surroundings. The next morning, children often will not remember either night terrors or sleep walking. While scary for parents, night terrors usually do not harm children. In some cases, though, night terrors and sleep walking may be a sign of another sleep disorder that your child has.

  • Circadian rhythm disorders are disruptions in your child's regular daily cycles, including sleeping and waking. Most circadian rhythms are controlled by the "clock" in the brain that runs the body. Circadian rhythm disorders may be caused by a mismatch between the internal body clock's setting and conditions in the outside world - a common example is jet leg. They may also be a sign of a problem within the clock itself.

  • Sleep-related movement disorders include head banging, body rocking, periodic limb movements and growing pains (benign nocturnal limb pain of children). While the causes of these disorders are different, they all make it hard for your child to sleep, whether due to a strong urge to move (restless legs syndrome), muscle pain (growing pains) or involuntary movement (periodic limb movements and head banging).

Services We Offer

In our specially designed Bellevue sleep disorders lab, we offer a variety of sleep studies and services, including:

  • Doctors use polysomnography (PSG or sleep study) to identify sleep problems. During sleep, the body acts differently than while awake. A sleep study monitors your child's body functions during sleep, including sleep stages, eye movements, brain waves, muscle activity, breathing, body positions and heartbeat.

  • A Multiple Sleep Latency Test is a daytime nap study that gathers information about your child's body functions and sleepiness during the day. The test is usually done right after a polysomnography (PSG or sleep study). During the MSLT, your child will take a series of naps every two hours throughout the day.

  • Children usually have sleep studies with CPAP or Bi-PAP after they have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea or another breathing disorder during sleep. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and Bi-PAP for bi-level positive airway pressure. Both studies use machines that get more of the air in the room to your child to help with breathing during sleep. During these tests, your child sleeps wearing a facemask hooked to a special CPAP or Bi-PAP machine that records the right amount of air pressure for your child. The results give us the correct air pressure setting for you to set up a CPAP or Bi-PAP machine in your home. A sleep study may also be done with extra oxygen to help your child's breathing.

Paying for Care

Learn about paying for care at Seattle Children’s, including insurance coverage, billing and financial assistance.