There is presently a National Health and Education Crisis occurring in this country that many pediatric professionals are trying to ignore or cover up at the expense and suffering of approximately 15-17% of our American children! That is correct. Approximately 15 million children and adolescents in this country have an unidentified and untreated sleep disorder preventing them from working up to their academic potential, causing them mental and emotional distress and possibly even many psychiatric misdiagnoses (ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, oppositional-defiant disorder, etc.). As a result, many of these undiagnosed students are prescribed unnecessary pharmacological treatment, placed in special education, and often develop significant lifelong health issues or suffer from high rates of vehicular and other accidents that could be prevented! Most pediatric professional are unawareness or ignore these critical issues, which are costing our country billions of dollars annually in unnecessary educational and health expenses, and yes, even thousands of unnecessary deaths! Does it sound impossible that something this harmful could be occurring in this great country, and almost no one is talking about it, warning parents, or lobbying government for help?
This sleeping giant is veiled in the form of six harmful pediatric sleep disorders that impair students' cognition, learning, behavioral/emotional regulation, and may cause many long-term health problems if not corrected early (high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, strokes, memory loss, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes, etc...), and result in approximately 200,000 vehicle accidents annually. Fifty percent of these accidents are caused by youth between 16-25 years of age who are falling asleep at the wheel (please see the accompanying Crucial Facts about the Negative Impact of Sleep Disorders). Most of these sleep disorders are easily corrected and would not result in the severe problems mentioned above if treated in the early elementary years. Unfortunately, only about 2% of our children and adolescent's sleep disorders are identified and corrected due to professional unawareness, neglect, or the decision to wait until these children become adults because sleep clinics and hospitals can make much more money treating adults with sleep disorders. Yes, that is correct. Sleep specialists who only evaluate adults (the majority) often tell me, "Dr. Luginbuehl, we prefer not to provide overnight sleep studies to children because many of the insurance companies and Medicaid will not reimburse us enough to make it profitable to evaluate this age group, and we lose money. This would eventually put us out of business if we evaluate the large numbers of children who have sleep disorders needing treatment." When these clinics receive adult referrals, they are paid 2-3 times more money and can make a profit. Sleep specialists and sleep clinics are not to blame for this insane reimbursement process, but the reimbursement system makes no sense and needs to change. Only then will sleep clinics be motivated to educate pediatric professionals and teach them to do simple sleep screenings that would result in millions of children being referred to our sleep clinics. Early identification and correction would prevent billions of dollars presently being spent on these students for academic remediation, soaring long-term medical costs, and government support of these people when they become school drop-outs and are unable get a good-paying job and support themselves and their families. Very little is being done for children at a time when all sleep specialists/clinics should cohesively lobby insurance companies and Medicaid to pay more for children's evaluations or try to develop and use less costly home monitoring devices. These clinics cannot deny evaluations of children referred to them by pediatricians or psychologists, but they are not proactive in teaching pediatric professionals or parents the warning signs to look out and pursuing referrals to identify the other 98% of children who have this 'sleeping giant'. Many fear opening the referral floodgates.
Here are some other problems that prevent the 'sleeping giant' from being identified and treated:
(1) Most of the pediatric research on the harmful effects of sleep disorders on children's learning, behaviors, and health is primarily being published in professional sleep journals, so most educators, pediatricians, and parents are unaware of the facts about sleep disorder.
(2) The medical schools only require pediatricians to have approx. 2 hours of training on sleep disorders when they really need a week and spending 1-2 nights at a sleep clinic to recognize the symptoms and serious impact sleep disorders have on children's health and education.
(3) Even when pediatricians are shown a simple sleep screening inventory they could have every parent complete on their child that would identify 90% of the pediatric sleep disorders, most of them say that they are so busy already and do not have time to bother with sleep screenings.
(4) When school nurses and school psychologists are trained on the harmful effects of sleep disorders and shown how to screen and refer students to sleep specialists, they say that their school districts are almost bankrupt and cannot afford the 25 cents that a screening inventory would cost per child to identify these harmful sleep disorders. However, when these students' sleep disorders are not identified, it often results in thousands of dollars per untreated student of extra costs for educational remediation or special education services, not to mentioned all the ensuing healthcare, welfare, and/or disability expenditures our society is paying!
I and some of my colleagues have been trying for 7-10 years to educate pediatricians and professionals in some of the larger school districts. However, most of these professionals are not responding for the four above-mentioned reasons, so we still have about 97-98% of all students with harmful sleep disorders not being identified. This is an Embarrassment to the professions of sleep medicine, pediatrics, and education! We need Help! There is a simple solution to all of these roadblocks harming children: The News and Talk Show Hosts could be our greatest national advocates for the education, health, and welfare of our children!
You could assist me and some of the pediatric sleep specialists who would finally like to tell our stories in the national media and dramatically improve the lives of millions of students in this country. You have the ability to Wake Up American Parents and ignite a proactive movement to bring about CHANGE in America and internationally!
With the media's support, we could quickly inform parents of the following critical facts: (1) the high incidence rates of serious sleep disorders in children and adolescents, (2) some of the harmful effects to cognition, learning, behaviors, health, and safety if not identified and treated, (3) how to identify the children/adolescents who probably have a sleep disorder (there are warning signs and a simple 10-15 minute sleep screening parents can do online that is 90% accurate), and (4) how to get their child a comprehensive sleep study so the sleep disorder can be corrected early in life before collateral damage is done and can no longer be repaired, or the repair is very difficult and costly! By addressing these issues and informing parents, the parents could circumvent all the professional roadblocks in existence by screening their own children online. The parent can show the sleep inventory and report to a pediatrician or sleep specialists, and if there is an 85-90% probability of the child having a sleep disorder, the sleep specialists would have to proceed to their comprehensive evaluation or risk liability of a lawsuit. The higher numbers of parents seeking overnight sleep studies would force the sleep specialists to bond together and demand changes in the insurance and Medicaid reimbursement process so their clinics would not go bankrupt.
Please see the list of Crucial Sleep Facts that all parents need to know and a few personal stories of children or teens whose lives have been dramatically improved after their sleep disorders were treated and corrected. We could also provide you the names of other pediatric sleep specialists who would probably be willing to appear to help tell the story.
We strongly believe that we need the powerful and highly organized media to help us unveil the truth to millions of parents and empower them take charge of their children's health and get them the medical and educational help they need. This could be another great cause, a new cause, that the news and talk show hosts undertake for the children and parents of America. There is such a massive amount of parents/grandparents who have a child/grandchild with a sleep problem/disorder impairing school performance and health that it would be an extremely interesting show with so many angles or talking points you could present (Please see our Press Kit items). It could possibly reap great improvements and rewards for children in the USA and internationally that you could help us accomplish!
Please do not ignore these children's suffering and needs like so many other professionals do.
Marsha Luginbuehl, Ph.D., NCSP
School Psychologist and President, Child Uplift, Inc.