Testing for Sleep Apnea in Children

When so much a child’s growth is dependent upon their sleep schedules, it’s a growing concern that children are not achieving enough sleep—or enough quality sleep. If children are to develop cognitive functions and grow steadily into adulthood, it’s becoming more advisable to have them checked out for sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.

There are a plethora of distractions that can cause a great deal of stress on children’s sleeping habits, especially when it becomes habitual or routine. Modern habits, like falling asleep in front of the television, can have extremely negative effects on the quality of one’s sleep, and that’s not even the worst inhibitor; today, video games, ipads/tablets, iphones, and the internet all contribute to a child’s inability to fall asleep. These factors have an even greater negative impact on children who are already suffering from sleep disorders.


Sleep is critical for restoring and rejuvenating the body, playing a large role in building a child’s immune system. Of the sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. It results in an inability to get enough oxygen during sleep due to obstructive tissues in the throat.

Sleep apnea can be treated, but it’s pivotal to catch cases early on as, untreated, it can lead to cardiovascular conditions (i.e. heart disease—the leading cause of death in America). While a sleep study can diagnose a child for sleep disorders, people who think their child is suffering a sleep disorder should look for several key indicators: snoring, daytime drowsiness, inability to focus, etc. The inability to focus is an especially critical symptom as recent studies, published in the U.S. News, have proven that many children have been misdiagnosed for ADHD when they actually have sleep apnea.

Because sleep apnea can contribute to obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and other health problems, it’s important to be treated. In children, it’s commonplace to undergo surgery for curing sleep apnea. A tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy will remove the tissue in the back of the throat that’s causing the lack of oxygen or halts in breathing during sleep. For some parents, surgery is not the desired option, especially since these are not 100% effective. As a result, there are many other sleep apnea treatments for children and adults suffering sleep apnea. The continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common, and guarantees oxygen to the lungs. Another alternative is oral appliances. Given that many children undergo dozens of appointments to dentists and orthodontists, this is a widely used and often effective option. There are a wide variety of dental appliances that can be adjusted to the child’s particular dental arrangement. Additionally, if a sleep apnea dental appliance is lost, most dental sleep specialists provide easy and secure methods for ordering a new device online.

Sleep apnea is undiagnosed 90% of the time, and is much less well known than common conditions like ADHD. Because of this, it’s important to take into consideration other conditions before prescribing children with medication that will not solve the root problem, especially when sleep apnea can lead to potentially fatal outcomes.

One thought on “Testing for Sleep Apnea in Children

  • March 25, 2013 at 6:10 am

    Thank you this was somewhat helpful, although my son who is now 9 was born with a heart murmur and it was still faintly heard at 7. I am going to look into that also.


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