As a parent, there’s nothing more difficult than seeing your child struggling and feeling like there’s nothing you can do to stop it. If only everything were as simple and magically effective as covering an elbow scrape with a Band-Aid and kissing it to make it all better, right?
Now that the summer is over and kids everywhere are getting back into the routine of going to school, some may find themselves struggling to keep their grades up. And as the parent, you may be left asking yourself: What is it that’s causing these academic problems?
In some cases, it could be sleep apnea. “Wait a second,” you’re probably thinking, “isn’t that the sleep disorder that affects overweight men?” Yes, it’s true: Being overweight, male, and over the age of 40 are certainly at high risk, but the reality is that children as young as two years old develop sleep apnea, and it can have a significant effect on them physically and behaviorally.
A recent study conducted at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and published in the journal Pediatrics examines the link between sleep apnea and academic problems among children.
Study lead author Barbara Galland and her team reviewed 16 previous studies focusing on children with sleep disorders and their academic achievement. They found that children with sleep-disordered breathing – of which sleep apnea is a common type – scored lower than their healthy peers on language arts, math and science tests.
“If a large sample of children without sleep-disordered breathing achieved an average 70 percent score for a test examination, a comparable sample of children of the same age with sleep-disordered breathing would be estimated to achieve an average score 11 percent below (59 percent),” said Galland.
Galland explained that while sleep apnea may not be the direct cause of academic problems among children, it does interfere with their quality of sleep, which can impact their ability to pay attention, learn and perform well at school.
Interestingly enough, Galland and her team found that children with sleep apnea didn’t have worse performance in school overall than their healthy peers, though they noted that this finding could be a result of differences in the 16 studies. Still, their research showed that unsatisfactory progress or learning problems were more common among children with sleep apnea than children without sleep apnea.
Unfortunately, determining whether your child has sleep apnea can be challenging. In fact, as SoClean has previously reported, many children who have sleep apnea may be misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as the two conditions have similar behavioral symptoms.
Experts recommend keeping an eye out for the following symptoms of sleep apnea: snoring, noisy breathing, restless sleep, irritability/moodiness, difficulty focusing, decreased energy and daytime sleepiness.
If you think your child may have sleep apnea, the first step is to find a pediatrician near you who specializes in sleep apnea and set up an appointment. In most cases, it’s easy to treat this condition with an adenotonsillectomy, positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy, weight loss or the use of oral appliances.