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Safety and Wellness

A Time to Rise and Shine: Back to School and Sleep Issues

A sleeping child.

The change in seasons and the start of a new school schedule can bring sleep challenges for families. Gillette Children’s has one of the nation’s only sleep medicine programs specifically designed for people who have disabilities or other complex health conditions. 

Jennifer Maytum, D.N.P., pediatric nurse practitioner, says children who have complex medical conditions are at greater risk for sleep disorders. Maytum works with John Garcia, M.D., sleep medicine specialist in the Sleep Health Clinic at Gillette and says, “Sleep issues for a child can impact the entire family. Parents report behavior problems when kids are not rested and it can also result in poor performance at school.”

Maytum says families who are struggling with sleep issues should make an appointment for their child to have a sleep study

To make an appointment for a sleep study at Gillette please call 651-290-8707.

Virtual care appointments available for sleep concerns

Dr. Garcia knows families might be reluctant to seek care for sleep issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to remind people that Gillette has virtual appointment options for the diagnosis and treatment of patients remotely. “These virtual care appointments are secure and can be done via computer, laptop, iPad or smart phone. In essence, it’s a return to simpler days when a provider would make a house call.”

If it is determined a sleep study is needed the patient would usually come to the Gillette Phalen Clinic in St. Paul. Maytum says unlike other sleep clinics, the program at Gillette provides each patient with their own sleep technologist to monitor them. (Most other clinics have one technologist for every two patients.) A parent or caregiver may sleep in the room with the patient or choose to sleep at a nearby area as long as they wear a mask and adhere to COVID-19 precautions.

Sleeping Kids Graphic

Health Issues and Sleep

Maytum says Gillette patients are often dealing with serious health concerns and that makes them more likely to have issues with sleep. For example, she says patients who have epilepsy may have nocturnal seizures and need to work with a neurologist to figure out if they’re experiencing a sleep problem or a neurological issue. 

“Children who have Down syndrome often have low muscle tone and that can lead to anatomical changes that make them prone to sleep apnea issues,” Maytum says. “Our patients who have muscular dystrophy are often dealing with hypo ventilation—meaning they are breathing at a very slow rate and not breathing deeply enough causing an increased amount of carbon dioxide in their blood.”

Sleep brings peace to the family

The sleep health specialists at Gillette work closely with patients and families to properly diagnose and treat sleep disorders. “Our techs are adept at working with people with cognitive and physical impairments. At Gillette we have a good success rate at completing sleep studies and getting data from electroencephalograms (EEGs) so we can detect the electrical brain activity in a child,” Maytum adds.

In general, Maytum says families not dealing with a special health concern would do well to try to develop a regular sleeping and waking time. “It’s important to develop consistent sleeping habits. Teenagers should also be sure to get out in the sunlight!  Spending too much time indoors can throw off your body’s natural rhythm and it’s also important to limit screen time before bed. The blue light from electrical devices can trick the brain and, again, throw off your sleep patterns. “

“It’s rewarding when we can help a child get the rest they need. One of the best parts of my job is seeing the relief on the face of an exhausted parent. It’s great to help the whole family get the sleep they need,” Maytum says.

Garcia agrees that helping families is incredibly rewarding. “I believe patient care is a reciprocal relationship—an exchange between the patient and physician,” Garcia says. “Families give us their trust. In return, our team provides medical care and treatment. Often a family will come to us having struggled with a child’s sleep disorder for years. They believe that’s just how life is. The good news is that it really doesn’t have to be that way.”

To make a sleep or virtual care appointment at Gillette please call 651-290-8707.