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Father reading a bedtime story to his son before bed

Growing bodies need a good night’s rest. 

Pediatric sleep medicine

Appropriate timing, duration and quality of sleep can help kids and teens perform better at school, manage their moods and feel their best. Pediatric sleep medicine specialists work with a multidisciplinary team to identify sleep disorders and help your child get the rest they need.

Why (or when) to see a pediatric sleep specialist

Symptoms of pediatric sleep disorders can look like other conditions diagnosed in children, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and others. If you notice these symptoms, talk to your pediatrician about seeing a pediatric sleep specialist.

Symptoms can include:

  • Changes in mood, like anger, depression and behavior issues
  • Daytime drowsiness (e.g., nodding off at school or in the car on short drives)
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Poor performance in school
  • Snoring
  • Unable to wake up on time
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking often throughout the night
  • Poor decision-making
  • Risk-taking behavior

Common pediatric sleep disorders

There are more than 70 types of sleep disorders. These are some of the conditions pediatric sleep specialists treat:

  • Sleep apnea is when you have changes in breathing throughout the night that interfere with your quality of sleep and your oxygen levels.
  • Insomnia’s symptoms include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. That leads to dissatisfying sleep or impaired performance during the day. Different factors can contribute to insomnia, including chronic stress or depression, environmental disturbances or pain.
  • Narcolepsy is known for severe excessive daytime sleepiness, causing you to fall asleep at inappropriate times. This is because the body can’t control its sleep-wake cycle. People often begin having symptoms as children or adolescents, but narcolepsy can go unrecognized for a decade. Adults can also develop the condition, but less frequently.
  • Sleep-related movement disorders are characterized by repetitive movements that interfere with sleep, such as restless leg syndrome.
  • Circadian rhythm disorders develop when your internal body clock is out of sync with natural day and night cycles (called “sleep phase malalignment”). For example, teenagers can have a delayed sleep phase syndrome, where their sleep cycles happen later than expected. Older adults may have advanced sleep phase syndrome — they go to sleep and wake much earlier than expected.
  • Parasomnia is a disruptive sleep disorder with wakefulness behavior that happens just before or during sleep. Common non-REM parasomnias (REM stands for “rapid eye movement”) include sleepwalking, sleep talking — or in young children, night terrors. REM parasomnias are less common, such as REM behavior disorder.


Diagnosing a sleep disorder could include interviews with the caregivers and child, assigning and reviewing a sleep diary, having the child wear a sleep monitoring device called actigraphy (at home) and performing a sleep study (at a hospital/sleep lab).

Sleep studies are done at specialized sleep centers where body functions can be monitored while the patient sleeps.

During a sleep study, a doctor or sleep specialist will check for:

  • Eye movements
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Brain waves (wake and sleep patterns)
  • Blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels
  • Snoring and other noises
  • Body movements and sleep positions

Treatments for pediatric sleep disorders

Treatment for pediatric sleep disorders requires a multidisciplinary approach. If you think your child or teen may have a sleep disorder, start by talking to their pediatrician or primary care physician. They can refer you and your child to a sleep medicine specialist.

Treatment is tailored to the child’s needs and can include:

Lifestyle changes

Staying active, healthy eating and maintaining good sleep habits can help your child’s sleep disorder. Daytime physical activity promotes wakefulness and can help your child fall asleep at night. Avoiding intense physical exertion and eating close to bedtime can also promote a better night’s sleep.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Understanding the behaviors that can contribute to better sleep and how to incorporate them into your schedule can make a world of difference for sleep. Partnering with a sleep psychologist or counselor who performs CBT can help families gain more control over the sleep problems.
Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy

Your child’s doctor may recommend PAP therapy (CPAP or BiPAP) to treat their sleep apnea. Using a PAP machine and a fitted sleep mask, pressurized air is sent through a tube into your child’s nose while they sleep. This helps keep the airway open and improve breathing.
Sleep hygiene and bedtime routine

Practicing good sleep habits — including keeping a regular bedtime, removing electronic devices from your room and keeping your room cool and dark — can help you sleep at night. Everybody benefits from practicing good sleep hygiene and a bedtime on a regular basis. It helps strengthen the association your child’s brain has with sleep by helping them wind down and exposing them to cues that sleep time is coming up.
Sleep scheduling

Sleep scheduling can help your child’s natural drive to fall asleep be more effective by making sure they go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day (including weekends). Large differences in bedtime and wake time, especially between schooldays and weekends, can confuse their brain’s recognition of appropriate sleep time. That makes it hard to fall asleep and to wake easily the next day.

Some sleep disorders may be improved with medications. Medications for sleep disorders are tailored to your child’s symptoms and specific sleep diagnosis.
Referral to specialists

Your sleep specialist may suggest your child see another specialist to further optimize their sleep. These specialists can include:

  • Pulmonology
  • Neurology
  • Ear, nose and throat (otolaryngology)
  • Psychiatry
  • Gastroenterology/weight management
  • Dentistry

Pediatric sleep care at Geisinger

Whether your child has a simple or complex sleep disorder, we’re dedicated to getting them the treatment they need to sleep better. We offer:

  • Care designed for your family, where you live – With locations throughout northeastern and central Pennsylvania and virtual telehealth consultations available, our experienced team provides convenient comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored care, backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
  • Accredited sleep centers – Our sleep centers are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
  • Sleep testing designed with you and your child in mind – Our sleep centers feature comfortable, private bedrooms that help people feel relaxed and at home. They can accommodate the child and a parent or guardian.