Sleep Apnea & Behavior Problems in Children

Boy Sleeping.

The number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been steadily increasing over the past decade. Yet according to a recent study, many children diagnosed with this condition don't really have it; their behavioral problems are actually related to sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD), such as sleep apnea.

The 2012 study, published in the journal Pediatrics, followed more than 11,000 children for six years, starting when they were 6 months old. The children who had SRBD were 40 percent to 100 percent more likely than kids without breathing issues to develop behavioral problems resembling ADHD by the age of 7. So if your child is exhibiting ADHD-like symptoms — or has even been diagnosed with ADHD — it's worth considering whether interrupted sleep might be an issue.

It makes perfect sense when you think about it: A well-rested individual, young or old, can function a lot better on a good night's sleep. Yet a lack of sleep affects adults and children differently. While sleepy adults tend to act sluggish and drowsy, sleep-deprived kids are more likely to become hyperactive, uncooperative and unable to focus — just like kids with ADHD.

So what exactly is SRBD?

The condition is characterized by recurrent episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep. The child's airway becomes blocked by soft tissues near the back of the throat — tonsils or the tongue, for example — that partially close off the windpipe. These tissues can vibrate as air passes by, causing snoring. It's often worse while sleeping on one's back because this encourages the lower jaw to slip back, which in turn pushes the tongue in front of the airway.

Overweight children have a higher incidence of sleep apnea due to fatty tissue deposits in the soft palate, which decrease the size of the child's airway.

Does your child have a sleep-related breathing disorder? You can gather clues to report to your health professional by observing your child sleeping. Look for the following signs:

  • Snoring
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Chronic mouth breathing
  • Constant tossing and turning
  • Night panics
  • Bed-wetting

How is sleep apnea treated in children?

There are various treatments that can be very effective, depending on the cause. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can be surgically removed. A therapy known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) involves the use of a machine that delivers mild air pressure through a mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open.

How palatal expanders work.

Dentistry also can also play a role in treatment. For younger children who are still growing, the use of an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander has proven helpful in some cases. A palatal expander gently widens the roof of the mouth (palate) over time by separating bones that don't permanently fuse together until puberty. It's most often used to create more room for crowded teeth, but the expansion can also increase airflow.

Older children who have stopped growing can sometimes benefit from Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). This involves wearing a custom-made oral appliance designed to reposition the jaw during sleep so that the tongue is held away from the back of the throat, reducing the potential for obstruction.

The first step is to figure out what's keeping your child from getting the restful sleep that's so crucial to good health and well-being. For that to occur, and for your child to receive the best treatment, you will need to see a trained professional.

Related Articles

Snoring and Sleep Apnea - Dear Doctor Magazine

Sleep Disorders & Dentistry If my partner snores loudly, should I be concerned and what can be done to alleviate the problem? Why does my sleeping partner have lapses in breathing while sleeping and is it dangerous? Why do I wake up exhausted even though I get up to 10 hours of sleep at night? The answers to these and other questions — and how dentistry can help — are all revealed within... Read Article

Our Location

Find us on the map

Hours of Operation

Our Regular Schedule

Lunch Hours: 1:00 - 2:00pm

Monday:

8:00 am-5:00 pm

Tuesday:

8:00 am-5:00 pm

Wednesday:

8:00 am-5:00 pm

Thursday:

8:00 am-5:00 pm

Friday:

Closed

Saturday:

Closed

Sunday:

Closed

  • "I have been seeing Dr. Pettit and Jeanie for over 15 years and they make going to the dentist a great experience. Even when I moved away from their office, I still make the drive since they are so warm and professional. They are very personable but also efficient and experienced. I highly recommend Dr. Pettit’s office and when my parents moved to Utah, I got them to go there as well."
  • "My husband and I have been going to Dr. Pettit for years. He is very attentive to your needs and concerns. He keeps up with the latest technologies and will thoroughly discuss the treatment plan with you.
    His office is small, which gives it a calm and personable feel. His office staff is friendly and makes us feel like family.
    I honestly don't know what I'd do if I had to find another dentist."
  • "I will start off by saying that I do not like going to the dentist! But going to Dr. Pettit made me change my thoughts and made my experience enjoyable and fun! They have a great environment and a great staff! Jeanie is awesome and fun to work with! They make you feel welcome and make your time there go by quick! I’ll definitely be getting my annual checkups done because of them!"
  • "Amazing dentist and team. Dr. Pettit made sure to meet all my needs regarding being nervous and was happy to answer any questions I had about my procedures. He wants to make all patients feel comfortable which is great. Jeanie, the dental hygienist, is a sweet lady and is happy to help as well. Becky, the office lady, is also very kind and always happy to help with anything she can! Their dental assistant Melissa is also so kind. Great dentist, 100% recommend if you’re a nervous patient or just need a nice dentist office!"