Does your child snore? Does he breathe through his mouth when he sleeps? Do you ever notice pauses in your child’s breathing while she’s asleep? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, your child may be suffering from sleep-disordered breathing.
Sleep-disordered breathing in children is disruptive to their nightly rest, which can result in other health problems. Scientists are still working to get a sense of how prevalent the disorder is among children. We’re also still learning about the risk factors that contribute to sleep-disordered breathing in children, as well as the health consequences for kids who suffer from it. Increasingly, it appears that both the risks and the health effects of sleep-disordered breathing are different in children than they are in adults. A new study examines both the prevalence of sleep disordered breathing in children, and the particular risk factors they face.
Researchers in Finland examined sleep-disordered breathing in 491 children ages 6-8. Their study, which was part of a larger research project on child health, analyzed the prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing among the children. The study also examined risk factors that might contribute to the sleep disorder, including tonsil size, jaw position, and facial proportions. For the purpose of this study, sleep-disordered breathing was defined as frequent or loud snoring, mouth breathing during sleep, and sleep apnea.
Here are some important highlights of their results:
Several craniofacial features were associated with elevated risk for sleep-disordered breathing:
These results suggest that the risk factors for sleep-disordered breathing in children may be very different than those for adults. The most significant risk factor of sleep-disordered breathing in adults is excess body weight. Research indicates that 70% of people who are morbidly obese have obstructive sleep apnea. This study indicates that excess weight may not be a risk factor for children. For them, features of the head, neck and throat, as well as certain dental conditions, may be more significant indicators of risk for sleep-disordered breathing.
The health problems for children who develop sleep-disordered breathing also appear to be different than those for adults. A growing body of research indicates that children who experience sleep-disordered breathing are at greater risk for problems with behavioral, emotional, and cognitive development:
A recent large-scale study in the United States examined the prevalence for sleep disordered breathing among children. Researchers evaluated more than 12,000 children between the ages 6 months and 6.75 years, and found:
These latest results from Finnish scientists add to the body of research that indicates how significant an issue sleep-disordered breathing is for children. We need to know more about the prevalence of the disorder among children, as well as the risk factors and health consequences. We also need to further explore how the risks to children may differ from adults.
To avoid the behavioral, cognitive and emotional problems associated with sleep-disordered breathing, we also need to get better at identifying the problem. Early intervention can help avoid more serious problems that can occur if the disorder is left untreated. The most effective treatment strategy will involve the cooperation among doctors and dentists. But the process starts with parents. Paying attention to your child’s breathing during sleep, and bringing attention to any signs of irregular breathing, is the first and critical step.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™