Developmental Issues That Stem From Pediatric Sleep Apnea

A guest blog by Nader Ahmadni of

Pediatric sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by obstructed or narrowed respiration while a child sleeps. The condition affects an estimated 25 percent of children in the US and typically occurs between ages 2 and 8, though it is quite under diagnosed. Pauses in breathing during sleep in patients with pediatric sleep apnea are typically much shorter and lighter than those in adults with sleep apnea. While an adult may snore loudly and make choking noises, a child may simply stop breathing momentarily and then wake up. Both conditions can lead to sleep deprivation and a wealth of other health issues if left untreated.

Children with pediatric sleep apnea often suffer from symptoms such as restlessness and bed wetting. Parents may notice that their kids tend to snore or breathe irregularly, through their mouths. During the day, children may seem tired and inattentive as a result of poor sleep the night before. Daytime symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea can also include hyperactivity and mood swings.

The majority of pediatric sleep apnea patients have enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which physically block the child’s upper airway. Usually, a minor surgical procedure to have the tonsils and/or adenoids removed will cure the condition. However, there are other conditions that may cause sleep apnea in young children, such as physical deformities or muscle weakness. Obese children and children with thicker necks are much more prone to pediatric sleep apnea.

Finding immediate treatment for pediatric sleep apnea is perhaps even more important than for older patients. Pediatric sleep apnea that starts at such an early stage can stunt growth and lead to a number of developmental issues. Over time, if a child is not getting enough quality sleep, he or she does not acquire sufficient amounts of oxygen to aid in normal brain and body development. The child is more likely to be diagnosed later in life with health conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and childhood obesity.  Patients who grow up with untreated, chronic sleep apnea are also more likely to having learning disabilities, behavioral problems and metabolic problems.

In addition to making sure your child maintains proper diet and exercise, it is crucial that parents that notice symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea in their kids go to visit a primary care physician or a sleep center for further information. A sleep doctor can perform an overnight test called a polysomnography, which allows specialists to observe behavior, breathing and vital functions while the child sleeps in a sleep lab room. Data collected overnight will lead to proper diagnosis of the child’s sleep disorder so that the child can move forward with treatment either with a CPAP machine, oral appliances or surgery. As children aren’t able to identify the problem on their own, it’s crucial for parents to pay close attention to their children’s sleep habits and daytime behavior. In the event of an irregularity in breathing, be sure to visit a sleep doctor as soon as possible. is designed to link sleep disorder sufferers to local sleep doctors and sleep centers. In addition to our directory of sleep doctors, you can find informational articles related to your unique sleep disorder.

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4 thoughts on “Developmental Issues That Stem From Pediatric Sleep Apnea

  1. Please mention the aggression issue too. Our six-year-old daughter was very “oppositional” (beyond the normal level all children display from time to time), which we were surprised to learn came from (or was exacerbated by) her snoring, apnea, and kissing tonsils. Sleep deprivation is a many-headed monster, with the one you see dependent upon your child’s personality. No wonder so many pediatricians miss the clues.

  2. Sleep apnea may be the cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other behavioral and psychiatric disorders, but the research community doesn’t appear to be interested in pursuing these questions. What does it take to wake these people up to what appears to be the obvious?

  3. Chicken or egg what comes first? Are the symptoms of sleep apnea, adenoid enlargement, and tonsillitis causing the breathing pattern disorder or is it the other way round.
    It would be helpful to have the child’s breathing assessed. A dysfunctional breathing pattern, especially chronic open-mouth breathing, can lead to vertical growth producing a narrowed airway. This can lead to sleep apnea and other upper airway disorders, including nasal congestion, enlarged adenoids and glue ear.
    In many cases, with early intervention including a combination of breathing retraining programmes like Buteyko and Myofunctional therapy the dysfunctional breathing pattern can be corrected, avoiding the need for CPAP, oral appliances or surgery. This least invasive treatment should be the first option.