Sleep-disordered breathing is a broad term for breathing difficulties during sleep. It can range from light snoring to full-blown pediatric sleep apnea, but every point along the spectrum indicates some sort of blockage in the airway that disrupts your child’s sleep.

When an adult has sleep apnea, cognitive impairments come in memory problems, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. These same impairments happen to children who have sleep-disordered breathing, except the effect of these symptoms can be detrimental to your child’s learning and behavior. Young age is a time of immense learning. Children acquire new knowledge through their actions, watching others, and school. They learn to behave and how to pay attention. When they’re tired every day from fragmented sleep, they can’t perform their best. What comes out is a child who struggles in school, struggles to behave, and feels inadequate.

Sleep-disordered breathing in children isn’t as common as adult sleep apnea, so it’s not talked about. But it’s a real issue that can put a damper on the rest of your child’s life. Researchers have discovered that sleep-disordered breathing is linked to behavioral problems in children and think that some diagnoses’ of ADHD or other behavioral issues could really be a symptom of sleep-disordered breathing.

What’s Happening to Your Sleep-Disordered Breathing Child’s Brain

We know that the brain is the central authority for everything in our bodies. It controls voluntary and involuntary actions to ensure that our bodies function correctly. Our brains need exercise, fuel, and sleep, and when one of these is lacking, we don’t perform at our best. That’s why the fragmented sleep your child gets each night impacts their brain so significantly. That and the lack of oxygen could be damaging brain tissues.

Blood-Brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier is a network of blood vessels and tissues protecting the brain from harmful substances. It’s semi-permeable which means that some substances can get through to the brain like water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and general anesthetics.

While studying the brains of those recently diagnosed with sleep apnea but unmanaged and healthy individuals, researchers found that the blood-brain barrier in the former was more permeable than in the latter. They attribute this to a lack of oxygen and high blood pressure caused by apneic episodes. This means that those with childhood sleep apnea have a weaker barrier protecting their brains, allowing harmful substances to damage brain matter.

Sleep Cycle Disruptions

As your child sleeps, they pass through different stages, just as you do. The last two stages of REM and deep sleep are crucial for brain health and, in children, development.

As your child sleeps, their brain is doing the hard work of storing memories, categorizing new knowledge, releasing hormones, repairing cells, and cleansing itself of toxic chemicals produced during the day. If your child never progresses through the stages of sleep because they are constantly awakened due to the lack of oxygen, their brains don’t perform these important tasks. Toxic chemical waste continues to accumulate on the brain, damaging it.

Studies Show Sleep-Disordered Breathing Affects Behavior

A study of 263 kids showed that those with sleep-disordered breathing had poorer behavior than those who didn’t.

Children were tested for sleep-disordered breathing before and after the trial, and during a 5-year period, parents monitored behavior. 23 children had incident sleep apnea that developed during the trial, 21 had sleep apnea for the length of the trial, 41 started with sleep apnea that ceased during the trial, and the remaining had no breathing impairment. Through parent reports, researchers discovered that children who had incident sleep apnea were at four to five times greater risk for behavioral problems, and those with sleep apnea the whole time had a six times higher chance than those without. Parents of children with sleep-disordered breathing reported attention problems, disruptive behaviors, hyperactivity, poor social competency, poor self-care, and poor communication. Researchers also found these children three times more likely to earn a C grade or lower and seven times more likely to have learning issues.

Does Management Help?

It’s not your child’s fault that they can’t behave or concentrate enough to learn at the level of kids without sleep-disordered breathing. They can’t help that they can’t sleep. But you can. Management for sleep-disordered breathing helps children who struggle to learn, behave, and live a low quality of life sleep better at night. With unfragmented sleep, they’ll bounce back and be the happy, healthy child you know deep down that they are.

Management for sleep-disordered breathing depends on why your child can’t breathe and is custom to each child. Management may consist of CPAP, Appliance Therapy, Myofunctional therapy, Orthodontics, or Orthopedics.

Set Your Child Up for Success

Your child deserves to sleep each night peacefully and to have a chance at a healthy, happy life. Set them up for success by contacting one of the ASAP Pathway doctors. Our doctors have post-doctoral training and a passion for helping children with sleep-disordered breathing. Check our provider map and schedule an appointment today.