There is a surprising incidence of obstructive sleep apnea in children with between 2% and 6% of all children having it. And, that number may be growing as the incidence of childhood obesity grows. Why is this a big deal? Because poor sleep impacts childhood growth and development. Some years ago Dr. David Gozal studied a population of elementary school children for sleep apnea. He identified about 5% with sleep apnea. Almost all were in the lower 10% in their class in terms of learning and behavior. About half had surgery to remove their adenoids and tonsils, a major factor in childhood sleep apnea. Of those who had surgery almost all improved school performance and had increased growth where those who declined to have surgery had no improvement.
More recently a 5 year study of children between 6 and 11 years old was completed. Some of the findings included:
- 263 kids had overnight sleep studies
- 43 either had or developed sleep apnea
- Another 41 had apnea initially but it resolved spontaneously
- The children with persistent apnea were 6 times more likely to have behavioral problems with parents reporting hyperactivity, attention disruptive behaviors, communication and social competency problems.
- They were 7 times more likely to have learning problems and 3 times more likely to have low grades.
- The authors of the study from the University of Arizona in Tucson recommended that sleep issues be considered by school personnel when dealing with all these behaviors.
This recommendation is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics who came out with their second set of guidelines regarding sleep apnea in children pointing out again that there is no such thing as normal snoring in children (and I believe in adults as well) and that every child with snoring should be evaluated, at least clinically if not with a full sleep study, for possible sleep apnea. While some sleep apnea resolves on its own as children grow, the risk is high because of the potential effect on childhood development.
So if your child snores, don’t ignore it. Bring it up with their pediatrician and don’t settle for them being dismissive of the possible importance.