The Game Plan

The MRI scan will be scheduled to begin around your child’s normal bedtime or slightly later. Together, we will collaborate to devise a strategy for the scan night taking into account your child’s bedtime and sleep habits. During the day of the scan, we ask that you keep your child awake and active until your appointment time. See below for frequently ask questions and more tips for scan day!

What is MRI? Is it safe?
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the process of “taking a picture” of tissues in your body. In this case, we are taking a picture (many different pictures) of your child’s brain
  • An MRI scanner is like a camera, but it uses a powerful magnet and radio frequencies to take a picture
  • The scanner is a long tube surrounded by a giant magnet
  • MRI is safe and non-invasive and is approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for use with young children
  • No needle, injections or sedation is involved
  • Unlike x-rays, there is no radiation
Why do the scan while my child is asleep?

To obtain high quality MRI images, we need your child to be very still. Movement makes the image of the brain blurry and we have to toss it (think: a family photo when no one stands still). Staying still is quite difficult for very young children, but being asleep works!

A few days before the scan...

Practice having your child sleep on their back at home if they sleep on their side or stomach.

We will use a weighted blanket on the night of the scan to help keep the child on their back.

Practice at home with the habituation kit:

  • Place the soft foam earplugs* in your child’s ears after she or he falls asleep.
  • Play the sounds of MRI noises during your child’s sleep at progressively louder volumes to habituate your sleeping child to the MRI sounds.

*Note: We do not recommend that you use earplugs during the day while your child id awake, especially if your child has head and/or sound sensitivities. This will help to avoid anxiety over these materials.

What if...

…my child falls asleep to (or sleeps with) certain music or white noise?

Bring it with you on the day of the MRI scan and we will play it in the background.

…my child has a security ____?

Bring your child’s favorite blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal that they use to fall asleep to the first appointment. We will pre-screen the item for MRI compatibility and safety.

..my child co-sleeps (is used to sharing the bed) with us?

We have many families like that! We have a double bed, where parents can lie down next to the child, until s/he falls asleep.

Scan night

Getting your child to sleep…

  • If, in your experience, your child is likely to fall asleep in the car and stay asleep while being transferred to a bed, we encourage you to drive until the child falls asleep in the car (and remains asleep for about 10-15 minutes) before arriving at the MRI Center. However, if your child tends to wake up when being transferred from the car to the bed, we ask that you keep your child awake during the drive to the scan appointment.

Once you arrive…

  • We will meet you outside the MRI center (CFMRI) and there will be a parking spot reserved for you in the front of the Center. We will also help you remove any metal objects (e.g. keys, cell phones, coins, belts) from you prior to entering the MRI suite. We will save those for you in a bin.

If your child is asleep on your arrival (which is optimal!)…

  • We will escort you into the MRI suite and help you situate your child onto the MRI bed. Lighting in the building will be dimmed so as to not awaken your child.

If your child is awake on your arrival…

  • We will escort you into a room next to the MRI suite (with a child-size bed) where you can recreate your child’s bedtime routine as closely as possible, or (preferably) to the MRI suite, where you can use a rocking chair, large playpen, or MRI bed itself to put your child to sleep. You can stay with your child until he/she falls asleep. Our staff typically limits their contact with you and your child during that time in order to reduce the child’s anxiety and increase the likelihood of him/her falling asleep.

Once your child is asleep…

  • We will wait an additional 15-20 minutes to make sure your child falls into a deep sleep before proceeding.
  • You will then carry your child to the MRI bed in the MRI suite and you (or our staff) will place the earplugs in their ears to reduce the MRI sounds. After all that practice at home, you will be a pro at this by now!
  • If your child wakes up at any time while we position him/her, he/she will be given ample time (at least 10-15 minutes) to fall back into a deep sleep before attempting placement again.
Once the scan begins...

  • Once your child is positioned comfortably and in a deep sleep, the scanning will begin.
  • Once the scanning has started, an MRI researcher (and the parent, if desired) will stay with the child for the duration of the scan.
  • It takes about 45 minutes to obtain all the brain images that allow us to look at your child’s brain anatomy, function and connections.
  • The scan will be stopped immediately if the child wakes up.
  • If your child does not fall asleep within 1-1.5 hours after arrival to CFMRI or wakes up during the scan and cannot return to sleep, we will encourage you to schedule a second visit to attempt to re-scan.
  • We typically attempt to scan up to two times, and often the 2nd time is successful because the parents know what to expect.