WESTCHESTER, Ill.— Physicians frequently prescribe medications for sleep difficulties in children in U.S. outpatient settings, according to a study published in the August 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.

Milap C. Nahata, PhD, of Ohio State University, conducted a cross-sectional study on patients 17 years of age and younger with sleep difficulties from 1993-2004, using data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. During this time span, approximately 18.6 million visits occurred for sleep-related difficulty in children. The highest percentage of visits was by school-aged children (six to 12 years of age). Pediatricians saw 35 percent of patients, psychiatrists saw 24 percent and family practice physicians saw 13 percent of the patients.

“According to our study, 81 percent of visits among children with sleep difficulties resulted in a prescription for a medication,” said Nahata. “Many of these medications were frequently used to treat children with sleep difficulties in outpatient settings despite lack of FDA approved labeling to assure their effectiveness and safety in this population.”

Reasons for such prescribing and strategies to minimize prescribing of unapproved medications for sleep difficulties in this population need to be studied, noted Nahata.

Medications can be used to reduce some sleep-related problems. Each medication targets a specific part of the brain, which controls when your body sleeps and when it is awake. This is a complex process that also involves your heart, lungs and muscles.

A medication can provide much needed relief for someone with a severe sleep problem. However, there is also a level of risk involved with the use of any medication. Many people will have some side effects.

The same drug can affect people in different ways. A medication that helps someone else may not work for you. Your doctor can determine if a medication is the best treatment for your sleep problem. Never take a medication without the approval of your doctor.

Experts recommend that infants sleep between 14-15 hours a night, toddlers between 12-14 hours a night, pre-schoolers between 11-13 hours a night, and school-age children between 10-11 hours of sleep a night. 

Your child should follow these steps to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
  • Get a full night’s sleep every night.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that has a stimulant, prior to bedtime.
  • Do not go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal before bedtime either.
  • The bedroom should be quiet, dark and a little bit cool.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.

Parents who suspect that their child might be suffering from a sleep disorder are encouraged to consult with their child’s pediatrician or a sleep specialist.

SLEEP is the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society.

SleepEducation.com, a Web site maintained by the AASM, provides information about the various sleep disorders that exist, the forms of treatment available, recent news on the topic of sleep, sleep studies that have been conducted and a listing of sleep facilities.

For a copy of this article, entitled, “Trends in Medication Prescribing for Pediatric Sleep Difficulties in U.S. Outpatient Settings,", or to arrange an interview with an AASM spokesperson regarding this study, please contact Jim Arcuri, public relations coordinator, at (708) 492-0930, ext. 9317, or jarcuri@aasm.org.

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