Children who have sleep apnea can sometimes be misdiagnosed as having attention deficit disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They also might be misdiagnosed as having other learning or behavioral impairments, leading to unnecessary medications being prescribed for them.
Even though sleep apnea is found in adults much more often than in children, otherwise healthy children can certainly suffer from the condition, as well. Symptoms in children are often not as severe as in adults, but they can still impact sleep quality and impede a child’s development.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children
Incontinence during the night (bedwetting)
A child with untreated sleep apnea has a hard time breathing properly at night. This makes their brain have to work harder to draw in oxygen, causing it to fail to control other bodily functions, such as controlling their bladder. This can happen even if your child is well past the age of being potty trained.
Night terrors and nightmares
Obstructive sleep apnea means that a person's regular sleep can be heavily fragmented. This can lead the brain to go into high alert, which can in turn lead to psychological distress that can manifest as night terrors and nightmares in children.
Odd sleep positions
Children suffering from obstructive sleep apnea may try to adjust so that they can breathe more easily during the night. This can lead them to contort themselves in odd ways, such as sleeping in a seated position, or sleeping with their back arched or head tilted back.
The hypothalamus regulates the natural circadian rhythm during sleep. If it is disrupted during the night, it can impact your ability to handle pain while sleeping. This means that your kiddo may feel pain more intensely in the morning in the form of bad morning headaches.
Mouth breathing and/or snoring
Sleep apnea is caused by some sort of obstruction in the airway, usually caused by the soft palate. The result is snoring during the night. You may observe this in your child, along with pronounced breathing through the mouth.
Teeth grinding (bruxism)
Individuals suffering from sleep apnea will have difficulty breathing while asleep, and can even experience episodes during the night where they stop breathing entirely. Some individuals will respond by grinding their teeth. This behavior, known as bruxism, can have significant negative effects on an individual's dental health in the future; if left unchecked, teeth can wear down prematurely or even crack under the pressure.
Take the Quiz
Do you think your child is suffering from sleep apnea? Take this quick online quiz to find out.
Impact of Pediatric Sleep Disorders
When a child’s sleep is continuously interrupted due to a sleeping disorder, the body can suffer from a lack of oxygen, as well as a lack of growth hormones being released. The body requires oxygen to fully mature, and growth hormones are normally released during sleep.
Some long-term consequences of sleep disorders in children include:
- Memory loss
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Aggressive behavior
- Delayed development
- Nervous system dysfunctions
- Learning problems
- Impaired intelligence
Early Detection is Critical
It’s possible to guide proper skeletal growth to encourage normal airway development while children are still growing. The ideal age for treatment of sleep disorders in children is from two to five, when much of the growth of the head, airway, and neck take place.
Dr. Krish often guides each child’s treatment to include custom oral appliances; these appliances can assist in proper jaw development, improve skeletal symmetry, open the child’s airway during sleep, and more.