With adults, it’s easy to tell when we haven’t had enough sleep. We’re sluggish, we yawn a lot and we typically verbalize/complain about how tired we are (or maybe that’s just me?).
But with children, the signs of sleep deprivation can be completely different. If your child seems overly active during the day, is a restless or loud sleeper, or has been diagnosed with ADHD. The underlying cause of their sleep problems might be sleep apnea.
Loud snoring, gasping, tossing and turning in bed—these are common symptoms of sleep apnea in both adults and children. As many as 4 percent of children have obstructive sleep apnea, usually between the ages of 2 and 8, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.
THE RIGHT DIAGNOSIS
Dr. Nicole Bryan, MD, an otolaryngologist (ENT) on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton, notes that sleep apnea in children is often missed. “It’s not well known, even among health care practitioners,” she says. “But it really can affect a child’s life, and there are effective treatments.”
The main cause of childhood sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and adenoids in the back of the nose and throat that disrupt breathing at night. Sleep apnea causes adults to feel fatigued during the day, “but children actually get more hyperactive, with difficulty concentrating and sitting still,” Dr. Bryan says. School performance naturally suffers, and there is evidence that some children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may actually have untreated sleep apnea.
KID FRIENDLY TREATMENT
While adults undergo polysomnography (a sleep study) to diagnose sleep apnea, this is not often done in children. And while adults can adjust to wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask to keep the airway open at night, if you try to get a child to do that, you can expect a fight.
“So the initial treatment for an otherwise healthy child is to remove the tonsils and adenoids,” Dr. Bryan says. It’s a day surgery procedure, with about a week of a sore throat—and that means plenty of ice cream. “This can be 70 percent to 90 percent effective.”