American Sleep and Epilepsy Centers
Sleep Study for a Child
Why might a healthcare provider recommend a sleep study for a
Sleep problems tend to perpetuate themselves over time. The child who is having night terrors, or
extreme nightmares, might later be the child who is sleepwalking. Sleep problems will not magically
disappear, so it is important to identify them early. Parents' understanding of their kids sleep is typically
influenced by their own family and cultural experiences, so what is a problem for one family, might not
be for another.
There are two general types of sleep problems, behavioral and physiological. In practice, a combination
of both physical and behavioral problems often exist together. For example a physical sleep disorder can
lead to additional behavioral problems. If it is a behavioral problem, it will typically improve if the child is
permitted to sleep wherever he or she wants to sleep. If not, it may be something physically wrong, and
that's when a sleep study may be assigned.
How can families prepare for the study?
I recommend that kids and parents make it a fun night, since typically the parent will be sleeping in the
room with the child. They can wear matching pajamas, order take-out food, and stay up as late as they
like. This helps take the pressure off the child falling asleep since the sleep study is to find out what
happens during sleep. The children typically sleep better than the parents do.
I also tell children the same rules apply in the sleep clinic as in their home; if they're able to jump on the
bed at home they can do it here. I encourage them to bring anything from home—except their pets—to
make them feel comfortable, such as pillows, blankets, and sheets. We also make sure the clinic is very
child-appropriate with video games, magazines, and telephones for the child to call home if they want to.
The wires that we attach to the child's head are gold, so I tell children we’re going to decorate your hair
with gold. Each child also receives a photo of himself or herself with wires on so that they can show their
friends and family.
What advice about children's sleep can you offer for parents and kids?
Something so natural as sleep should not be a chore. It's important for parents not to get upset when
they think their child is having problems, as this can perpetuate the situation.
They should take a deep breath, be patient and think how lucky they are to have that child. Parents
should also know there are many resources to help them. There are several quality books as well as
their pediatricians and people who are certified in both sleep medicine and pediatrics. For kids, I tell
them sleep is good for you. Sleep is fun. It's when you get to dream and you can look forward to your
Rafael Pelayo, M.D., is an assistant professor at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine.