You might be aware of sleep apnea in adults, but what about children? Yes, our children can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), too. However, with our children, sleep apnea can be more complicated than you think. Even just brief pauses in breathing can cause a child to experience low levels oxygen in the blood, which can occur quickly in children with OSA. Let’s take a closer look…

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep related breathing disorder and is one component of a spectrum of sleep-disordered breathing. OSA occurs when the muscles relax after falling asleep. As a result, soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway leading to partial reductions in breathing.

When it comes to our children, these obstructions appear to occur during the stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Even brief apneas can cause a child to have low levels of oxygen in the blood, and can occur quickly in a child with OSA. For this reason, we must pay close attention to our children’s sleep patterns at night, as well as the way they act the next day. 

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Children?

Since children have smaller lungs, they have less oxygen in reserve, which causes them to take frequent, shallow breaths rather than slow, deep breaths. When this occurs, it can cause a child to have too much carbon dioxide in the blood.

As an adult with OSA, you may have fragmented sleep, briefly waking up after breathing stops. But, children do not wake up in response to their pauses in breathing. Children have a higher “arousal threshold” than adults, making their sleeping patterns fairly normal with OSA.

Most children with sleep apnea have a history of snoring that tends to be loud and may include obvious pauses in breathing and gasps for breath. Snoring can also involve a continuous, partial obstruction without any obvious pauses or arousals, but the child’s body may move in response to the pauses in breathing. Additionally, if your child suffers from sleep apnea he/she may experience cognitive and behavioral problems including:

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Delays in development
  • Poor school performance

Contact Dr. Sara at AZ Sleep & TMJ Solutions to learn more about how you can properly care for your child’s sleep apnea, so they can live a happy and healthy life.