When you think of sleep apnoea, you could be forgiven for thinking of a middle-aged man who is slightly overweight. While this is the typical sufferer of sleep apnoea, the medical condition is also prevalent amongst children, affecting about 2-3% of kids every year.
In these cases, sleep apnoea can be especially damaging as it impacts their development in a variety of ways. Children with sleep apnoea have greater difficulty learning, often feel tired and drowsy, and struggle with other behavioural and medical problems.
Sleep apnoea in children isn’t immediately obvious, however, these 10 signs may be indicative symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea.
Sleepwalking affects roughly 10% of kids on at least one occasion between the ages of 3 and 10. When sleep becomes fragmented, your consciousness enters a mixed state in which your body is awake, but any awareness or memory of walking is suppressed.
Sleep apnoea can lead to brief awakenings to resume breathing, fragmenting a child’s sleep. This creates a state of consciousness that makes sleepwalking episodes more likely.
2. Teeth grinding
Sleep apnoea occurs because of the soft tissue at the back of the throat blocking your airway. Teeth grinding, as well as clenching and gnashing of the teeth may be a sign that the body is subconsciously trying to keep the airway open.
Grinding tightens the jaw muscles and in turn prevents the collapse of soft tissue and blockage. Mouthguards can be used to prevent damage from grinding, it is best to treat the cause of the symptoms for long term benefits.
Although common when children are growing up, wetting the bed more than twice per week can be a sign of sleep apnoea. Bedwetting occurs during “low-wave” sleep when the child fails to wake up from a full bladder. For children with OSA, treatment of the condition usually resolves the bedwetting.
If your child is otherwise healthy and persistently waking up covered in sweat, it may be related to sleep apnoea. Significant levels of sweating can be a sign that your child is struggling to breathe during sleep.
This usually decreases oxygen levels, spikes blood pressure and the heart rate and increases stress hormones. This can lead to excessive sweating.
5. Restless sleep
Difficulty breathing can result in particularly restless sleep, as the overall quality of sleep is diminished. For example, your child may have excessive movement during their sleep or sleep in unusual positions.
If your child’s covers are highly disorganised in the morning or sleeping in odd positions, it can be a sign that their overall sleep quality is being affected.
In general, chronic snoring should never be present in a child. Chronic snoring is a clear sign of abnormal airflow through the upper airway of the nose and mouth to the lungs. While snoring can be a result of allergies or enlarged tonsils, it is most commonly associated with sleep apnoea.
7. Growth problems
When a child falls behind the curve in terms of their expected development, sleep disorders can be a factor.
Growth hormone is released in children during slow-wave sleep and when this sleep becomes disrupted and fragmented due to sleep apnoea, less hormone is released. This means children are less likely to grow to their potential.
It’s normal for children to have naps to recuperate, however, they should have stopped taking naps by the time they are old enough to go to school.
If they haven’t and can’t stop falling asleep it’s likely they’re not getting the quantity or quality sleep they need. If your child shows signs of excessive sleepiness even as they get older, they may need to be evaluated for a sleep disorder.
Sleep disorders like sleep apnoea can be a common cause of behavioural problems like ADHD. Poor quality sleep often leads to children struggling to concentrate and pay attention which are common symptoms of behavioural problems.
Similarly, sleep studies have shown that children with ADHD often present with many signs associated with sleep apnoea such as excessive snoring and restlessness. With this in mind, children with behavioural issues should also undergo a sleep evaluation.
10. Mouth breathing
Lastly, mouth breathing is a clear sign that your child has an obstructed airflow passage that can cause sleep apnoea. As humans, we are designed to breathe through our noses.
If your child’s nasal passage becomes blocked and they habitually breathe through their mouth, their tongue and other mouth and throat muscles can become weak, resulting in further airway blockages. This makes sleep apnoea and snoring more likely.
How can we help?
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, at Dental Pearls Brisbane, we can examine your child and get them on the path to better health and improved sleeping.
If you have any questions regarding sleep apnoea in children, or would like to book a consultation, contact us here today or call us on (07) 3210 2144!