Children with Sleep Apnea More Susceptible To Learning and Behavioral Struggles

Everyone likes to get a good night’s sleep and feel full of energy. This includes kids, though they may not realize it. Studies continue to show the relationship between children’s sleep and their progress and behavior in school. Those not getting enough sleep can end up struggling more than their well-rested peers.

Just as for adults, being sleepy makes it harder to pay attention and focus on a task. The mind wanders. Misbehavior becomes more likely, because, let’s face it, who isn’t crabbier and more inclined to disagree when they’re tired than when they feel wide awake? The average adult copes, but kids push and shove or get very “lippy.” They’re only human!

Children may spend enough hours in bed yet still be tired and sluggish the next day if they suffer from sleep apnea. This condition is a lack of proper breathing at night when the tissues of the throat and back of the mouth don’t remain sufficiently open for good ventilation, especially when breathing in. Though more common in older adults, kids can definitely develop sleep apnea – often without anyone even noticing.

On the other hand, they may show classic apnea symptoms such as loud snoring – sometimes actually gasping for breath in their sleep – and restless tossing and turning. They may complain of a dry mouth and be very thirsty upon waking up. In other cases morning headaches can sometimes be traced to sleep apnea. Also, as with adults, overweight kids are more vulnerable to poor breathing in their sleep than their skinnier friends.

According to two studies reported recently in The Journal of Pediatrics, grade school children with sleep disordered breathing, including snoring and sleep apnea, were more likely to have behavioral problems and more likely to be in special education courses. Each of these studies included thousands of children with and without sleep problems, and the doctors were careful to take into account factors such as socio-economic and other differences. In each case, higher percentages of kids with sleep apnea than not were in remedial courses or ending up at the principal’s office.

Of course, children without sleep apnea can also have these problems – but assessing a child’s sleep quality is a critical initial part of getting to the root cause of their school problems. It is well worth a trip to the doctor if it is at all suspected. This is especially so since sleep apnea is highly treatable, should it be found in a sleep study. For many young people solving the problem may be a matter of a children’s surgeon removing enlarged tonsils or correcting a deviated septum (wall) of the nose.

The other common treatment of sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), delivered by a small device through a mask over the mouth and nose. Like adults, some kids are less than thrilled about wearing this at night. They will understandably lose interest in the initial novelty of “playing astronaut.” Don’t be afraid to ask doctors, counselors and other parents, via online groups, for their advice on such struggles.

The good news in this regard is that even a few hours per night of using the CPAP device greatly improves oxygen levels in the blood and next-day alertness. The child may be more amenable to having the mask put on after they are asleep. If they are wearing it for at least part of most nights, they can easily take a “night off” when having a sleep-over, to avoid any embarrassment. With a bit of praise, kids will begin to appreciate their ability to get better grades when feeling better rested – and become self-motivated. Chances are the parents will sleep much better at that point as well! aims to help sleep disorder sufferers lead a productive, normal life. Our directory of sleep doctors and useful articles is designed to help sufferers take control of their sleep disorder.

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