Most of the time, when we think of sleep apnea, we think of adults. But did you know that many children suffer from sleep apnea as well? In fact, sleepapnea.org states that, “It’s estimated than 1 to 4 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea, many of them being between 2 and 8 years old.” (Read the full article here.)
As with adults, sleep apnea in children occurs when breathing is paused during sleep, typically due to a obstruction (or blockage) in the upper airway. These pauses in breathing can occur many time per hour, and result in a deficiency of R.E.M. sleep, the restorative part of the sleep cycle. Because of this deficiency, children with sleep apnea often struggle with cognitive function, self-regulation of impulses, concentration, and planning. Sounds a lot like the symptoms of ADHD, doesn’t it? Sleep apnea can look a lot like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and this presents a unique problem–sleep apnea in children is often misdiagnosed. According to that same sleepapnea.org article, “Studies have suggested that as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may actually have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and that much of their learning difficulty and behavior problems can be the consequence of chronic fragmented sleep.”
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This means as many as 25 percent of children being treated for ADHD are actually suffering from sleep apnea. Therefore, the treatment they are receiving, whether medication or therapy, is not actually solving the problem. Until the sleep apnea is treated, it will continue, and the detrimental effects will also continue. No amount of medication or therapy for ADHD is going to have any effect whatsoever on the sleep apnea. What’s more, continuous untreated sleep apnea during childhood can be incredibly damaging in the long term.
Because brains are still developing during these early years, chronic fragmented sleep can cause a host of cognitive, behavioral, and physical problems for a child. “Bed-wetting, sleep-walking, retarded growth, other hormonal and metabolic problems, even failure to thrive can be related to sleep apnea.” (sleepapnea.org) What’s more, childhood obesity is strongly associated with sleep apnea, a cycle that can carry well into adulthood and cause even more health problems as time goes on, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, depression, and more.
Let’s take a quick look at the symptoms of sleep apnea in children:
- daytime sleepiness
- excessive sweating at night
- heavy breathing during sleep
- behavioral problems
- difficulty concentrating and poor school performance
- teeth grinding / bruxism
- impulse control issues
- snoring, snorting, gasping, or paused breathing during sleep
- restlessness during sleep, including tossing and turning and sleeping in odd positions
If your child is demonstrating any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with a specialist about sleep apnea testing. Like adults, a child will need to take a sleep apnea test to be diagnosed. Once they are diagnosed with sleep apnea, children have a few options for treatment, including CPAP therapy or oral appliance therapy. In children, the cause for sleep apnea can often be enlarged tonsils or adenoids, in which case a surgical procedure called an adenotonsillectomy can be extremely effective.
Please share this article with friends and family. You never know whose child you may be helping by sharing this information! Sleep apnea is an epidemic in the United States, with almost 80% of sleep apnea sufferers remaining undiagnosed and untreated. One of the biggest reasons for this is the lack of information being made available–most people simple do not know about sleep apnea, what it looks like, or how detrimental it can be if left untreated. You can help! In this case, sharing is most definitely caring, so please share this with the people you love.