Stories about: Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders

Does your child have narcolepsy?

Teenager with his head down is sleeping in class, possibly with narcolepsy.

Teens are a notoriously sleepy bunch. Left to their own devices, many will happily snooze into the early hours of the afternoon. About 28 percent of teens also report falling asleep in school at least once a week, according to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation. This can make it difficult for parents to know when a teenager’s love affair with sleep might be the sign of narcolepsy or another sleep disorder.

While narcolepsy is a rare condition, affecting only about .05 percent of the U.S. population, it often goes undiagnosed. It is a condition that typically develops between ages 10 and 20.

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Sleepy teen finds relief in narcolepsy diagnosis

For as long as Maeve Sheehy can remember, she’s had short spells of feeling like she was about to fall over.

“It wasn’t like feeling faint, it was more like my knees would buckle underneath me,” says Maeve, now 16. “I would instinctually try to keep from falling by bracing myself.”

Sometimes the bracing didn’t work and Maeve would topple over. If she was with friends, she’d pretend she had tripped, to cover it up. But she secretly worried something was wrong with her. When she tried to explain the falling feeling to her parents and doctors, she was told she was probably dehydrated.

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6 ways your child’s bedroom may be sabotaging her sleep

Dennis Rosen, MDLet’s face it: we all know that sometimes getting our kids into bed is only half the struggle when it comes to having them fall asleep. They may lie there, tucked in but not sleeping, or toss and turn for hours. But is your child’s bedroom the reason she’s not getting enough rest?

Here are a number of things to look for in your child’s bedroom, which may be interfering with her ability to fall asleep at night:

Too much light.

Bright light, especially in the evening, has a very powerful awakening effect on the brain. Make sure the bedroom lights are dim, or better yet turned off completely. If your child reads before going to bed, use a low-wattage lamp. If a night-light is needed, use the lowest wattage you can find (no more than 7 watts) and make sure that the light it casts does not shine directly on the bed. In the summer months, when you may be trying to put younger kids to bed before the sun has set, consider using light-blocking shades or curtains.

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How can I get my scared of the dark toddler to sleep with the lights off?

Dennis Rosen, MD is the associate medical director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and author of Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids. If you have a sleep-related question to ask, please email it to Thrive@childrens.harvard.edu.

RosenDennis-1-PreviewlargeQ: My 2 year old daughter is very afraid of the dark the moment we leave her alone. She will happily turn off the lights so we can use a flashlight for shadow puppets, but when I’m ready to leave her and let her go to sleep she gets very upset, insisting I turn on both her ‘low intensity’ light AND her overhead light (or ‘big’ light as we call it).

I have tried everything to convince her that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but she still screams if I don’t leave the big light on. Unfortunately leaving the light on is starting to take its toll—she will sometimes lie awake for three hours after being left to sleep. We’ve tried to compromise by leaving the big light off while keeping the bedroom door open so light from the hallway can make its way into the room, but she insists its still too dark. What can we do to help her?

A: Your concern that your daughter’s exposure to all that light at night may be having an adverse effect on her sleep is well founded: exposure to bright light in the evening sends a powerful message to the brain that it’s still day time, which can delay the body’s desire for sleep. What’s more, the amount of light needed to trigger this response isn’t all that bright.

Fortunately there are a couple of ways to approach your problem. One method would be to simply to put your foot down and force the issue. Even if leads to several hours of crying the first couple of nights, she will eventually learn that nothing in the dark can harm her and drift off on her own.

Another, likely easier way to deal with the issue, would be to start downsizing the light bulbs in both the “big” and “low intensity” lights. For example, if currently you have the equivalent of 100 and 75 watt light bulbs in the lamps, you might switch to 75 and 40. Then in time you can gradually lower their intensity to 40 and 25, until you are able to turn one off completely, then both.

Good luck!

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