Sleep deprivation in children is a growing concern. It can have severe consequences on children’s physical and mental health. One of the most common causes of pediatric sleep deprivation is obstructive sleep apnea. OSA is a condition in which children’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep.
Sleep deprivation occurs when children don’t get enough sleep to meet their age-specific requirements. Newborns need the most sleep. Then, infants and children require progressively less sleep until they turn eighteen.
A variety of factors can cause sleep deprivation in children. These factors include medical conditions, poor sleep hygiene, and lifestyle choices, such as too much caffeine, sugar, or blue-light exposure close to bedtime.
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation in Children
Sleep deprivation can have severe consequences on children’s physical and mental health. A lack of sleep can lead to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It can also weaken children’s immune systems, making them more susceptible to illnesses.
Sleep-deprived children may also struggle with mood swings, irritability, and anxiety, as well as cognitive tasks involving memory retention and problem-solving skills. Additionally, sleep deprivation can negatively impact children’s academic performance and lead to behavioral issues and lower grades.
How Pediatric Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Sleep Loss
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Subcommittee on Pediatric Sleep estimates that between 1.2% and 5.7% of children experience obstructive sleep apnea.
Pediatric sleep apnea is typically caused by a partial or full obstruction in children’s upper airways. This obstruction makes children repeatedly stop and start breathing as they sleep, causing them to wake up multiple times throughout the night. These frequent sleep interruptions degrade children’s sleep quality and cause them to experience excessive daytime fatigue.
Signs of pediatric sleep apnea include the following:
● Loud snoring
● Gasping or choking during sleep
● Pauses in breathing during sleep
● Trouble staying awake during the day
● Mouth breathing
● Irritability or aggression
The Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea in Children
Aside from sleep deprivation, if left untreated, sleep apnea can have other serious consequences on children’s health. When children experience sleep apnea, their bodies’ oxygen levels decrease. Over time, this can lead to a host of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Sleep apnea can also affect children’s cognitive development and behavior. It can lead to trouble concentrating and retaining information. And it can cause irritability, hyperactivity, and other symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder. Additionally, sleep apnea can cause stunted growth and developmental delays.
How to Treat Sleep Apnea in Children and Prevent Sleep Loss
Fortunately, pediatric sleep apnea is highly treatable. Healthcare providers can use a multidisciplinary approach to treat OSA and other sleep-disordered breathing issues in children.
Dentists can examine children’s jaw, tongue, and palate to screen for clues of sleep-disordered breathing. And if detected, they can refer children for sleep studies to determine the cause of their breathing issues.
The first line of treatment with pediatric OSA is often to remove the tonsils and adenoids. An adenotonsillectomy is one of the most common pediatric surgical procedures in the United States. And it can significantly improve children’s sleep quality.
Another common treatment option is to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine involves wearing a mask over the nose and mouth, and it provides a constant flow of air to keep children’s airways open while they sleep.
Sometimes, children experience sleep apnea due to specific physical features. These include a tethered tongue, or tongue tie, and a high, narrow palate. A simple procedure using a laser can fix a tongue tie. And wearing an oral appliance called a palatal expander can modify the shape of children’s palates to ensure they get sufficient oxygen as they sleep.
A non-invasive approach that is an adjunct to treating OSA is myofunctional therapy, which focuses on the muscles and functions of the oral and facial structures. Myofunctional therapy aids in the treatment of sleep apnea by addressing the condition’s underlying causes. These include breathing issues, tongue position, and oral muscle tone.
These exercises aim to strengthen the tongue and jaw and show children correct posture and establish nasal breathing.
Lifestyle changes may also help reduce children’s sleep apnea symptoms and improve their sleep quality. These changes include…
● Maintaining a healthy weight
● Sleeping on their sides
● Avoiding foods and drinks that may cause breathing issues
● Establishing a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine
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Pediatric sleep apnea and sleep deprivation are serious issues that can negatively impact children’s physical and mental health. Parents and guardians need to prioritize their children’s sleep needs to ensure they wake up feeling refreshed and stay healthy.
By Meghna Dassani, DMD
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