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My Son's Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

by Angela Christensen

My son is seven years old. He has difficulty falling asleep at night and gets very "wound up" at bed time. We have tried being very consistent with bedtime routines and giving him wind down time. He almost seems overly tired. This has been a problem for some years now.


But in the past year he has been excessively sleepy in the daytime. It does not happen every day or in any consistent pattern. He averages about 10-11 hours of sleep at night. But will awaken, still seeming sleepy, and within an hour or two will be back asleep on the couch.

His teacher at school has called me concerned as well. He looks half asleep in class and is difficult to arouse. When he is in this state he cannot put together coherent sentences and has difficulty answering questions. He also slurs his words. At school his teacher says this happens a few times a week but not everyday.
On his "awake" days he is very energetic and alert. But on "sleepy" days he doesn't "wake up" until the afternoon. He seems to be fighting sleep all day long and doesn't want to do anything but sleep. When he is not sleepy he is a very energetic child. Possibly even hyper. He does have some allergies in the spring and fall for which he takes Claritin.

He also seems to breathe very loudly when he is sleepy -- but whether that is because he is half asleep or having difficulty getting air is hard to say.

I am wondering if he could have a sleep disorder or if there are other medical conditions that could be causing this.

Thank you for your help.
Angela Christensen

Kevin's Thoughts

Hey Angela,

Thanks so much for your correspondence and for sharing your son's situation. There are a few key parts to your writing that I want to highlight:
  • "He almost seems overly tired."
  • "...in the past year he has been excessively sleepy in the daytime." Despite the fact that:
  • "He averages about 10-11 hours of sleep at night."
To me, the fact that your son is getting A LOT of sleep and yet is STILL excessively tired to the point that it is getting in the way of his daytime energy and activities suggests that it is quite likely there is a sleep disorder involved.

The key thing to have in mind here is that daytime energy is not exclusively dependent upon the AMOUNT of sleep, but is also very heavily dependent upon the QUALITY of that sleep. And when the QUALITY of sleep is being compromised, the culprit is virtually always a sleep disorder of some kind. (You can read a little more about this contrast between AMOUNT and QUALITY of sleep in the form of a story about a young boy with sleep apnea here.)

Everything you have laid out for me makes me think that the next step for you is to take your son to see a sleep specialist (probably through his pediatrician unless you have access to a nearby sleep center). They'll be able to monitor his sleep using polysomnography, which will help to identify any problems that exist.

Best wishes! Feel free to share with us what you find out, or ask any follow-up questions or comments, using the "Post Comments" link below.

Warmly,
Kevin

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