Sleep Apnea Could Lead Children to Suffer Academically, New Study Suggests

It’s terrible enough that children who suffer from sleep apnea may stop breathing as many as 60 times in one hour when they sleep, but new research suggests that the sleeping disorder could cause them to suffer academically.

“Sleep apnea may not be directly causing academic problems,” said lead study author Barbara Galland. “Instead, sleep apnea may interfere with getting a good night’s sleep, which may, in turn, contribute to children having a hard time paying attention and being less ready to learn and perform academically during the day.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2008 and 2009, 29.7% of Alabama adults reported not getting enough sleep on at least 14 days in the past 30.

The new analysis, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at the results of 16 individual studies that dealt with sleep apnea, or related disorders in children and academic achievement. Researchers found that kids who suffered from sleep-disordered breathing performed worse in the language arts, on science tests, and math than those who didn’t suffer from such conditions.

“If a large sample of children without sleep-disordered breathing achieved an average 70 percent score for a test examination,” Galland explained, “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).”

If a child is treated for sleep apnea, it’s not clear how it may affect them academically. The research has mixed results. However, there are studies that suggest children may be able to focus better when their sleep apnea is treated.

Nevertheless, children should have their sleep apnea treated, regardless of how they’re doing in school. If left unchecked, sleep apnea could increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health issues, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Given the potential adverse consequences of sleep-disordered breathing on health, behavioral and learning outcomes in children, it is important for parents and clinicians to recognize symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing,” Galland said.

Snoring is one such symptom. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that every child be screened for snoring, and that they should undergo additional evaluation and treatment if it appears that they have sleep apnea.

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