Infant Sleep Apnea Harms More Than Sleep
Experts estimate that around 10% of Americans are affected by sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is periodically interrupted during sleep. This results in lowered levels of oxygen to the brain and other organs, which can be particularly dangerous for infants.
But the symptoms of sleep apnea go far beyond the immediate risk of restricted oxygen; sleep apnea can have major implications for a child’s behavior, development and overall health.
While many babies experience some level of sleep apnea and simply “grow out of it,” doctors are quickly realizing there’s a growing body of evidence showing that untreated pediatric sleep disorders take a heavy toll on the child.
Think about how you feel when you don’t get a good night’s rest. You’re irritable, have trouble focusing, and generally feel exhausted all day long. The same is true for your baby or toddler.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA), many learning and behavioral problems in young children can actually be attributed to sleep apnea. The ASAA reports that researchers have noted a relationship between disordered sleep breathing and a host of problems: cognitive flexibility, planning and organization skills, self-monitoring and self-regulation.
In older children, bed-wetting, sleep-walking, stunted growth, metabolic and hormonal problems may also be attributed to sleep apnea.
If the problem persists or develops in adulthood, the consequences can become far more serious; obesity and type II diabetes have been associated with disordered sleep.
So what can you do to find out if sleep apnea is affecting your child? First, understand the different types of apnea.
Central sleep apnea is most common in children under one year; it results from the brain’s failure to signal the muscles to breath and is common in premature babies.
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a physical blockage of the airway, sometimes from relaxed muscles, enlarged tonsils and defects with the upper airway. It’s more common in children over one year old.
Only a doctor can make a true sleep apnea diagnosis. If you suspect your child may be affected, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and likely run a series of tests to determine the amount of oxygen in her blood, her breathing and heart rate. Your doctor may also recommend you baby be studied during sleep, either at a lab or with a portable kit at home.
If the diagnosis is central sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe medication to stimulate your baby’s central nervous system.
If obstructive sleep apnea is the problem, your doctor may recommend a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which has proven to be very effective in improving sleep.
You may be referred to a sleep apnea specialist, who can determine the best course of action for your child.
Connect with other parents, ask questions and share advice by joining our free Facebook community, MonParents.