When a child’s snores are serious

Sleep problems in kids can be fixed, but first you have to know whether your child might have one. (AP Photo/WABC-TV)

I love watching my child sleep – and have since she was a newborn. The house feels deeply peaceful; so do I! But when a child’s snoozing is disturbed by adult-sounding problems like sleep apnea – you may hear rafter-rattling snores, snorts or even notice pauses in his or her breathing – the health consequences can be serious. A new study found that such issues can lead to learning problems, slowed growth, fatigue and emotional and behavior problems.

Sleep problems in kids can be fixed, but first you have to know whether your child might have one. When are a kids’ or teens’ sleep noises worth a trip to the doctor? According to the National Sleep Foundation, nighttime signs include:

  • Loud snoring on a regular basis  
  • Pauses, gasps, and snorts and pauses in breathing. The snorts or gasps may wake them up.
  • Working hard to breathe during sleep – a child’s nostrils may flare or she may sweat heavily.
  • Restless sleep

During the day, a child with sleep apnea may:

  • Be difficult to wake up
  • Have headaches, especially in the morning
  • Be irritable, agitated, aggressive, or cranky
  • Be so sleepy during the day that they actually fall asleep or daydream (worth asking his or her teacher about!)
  • Speak with a nasal voice and breathe regularly through the mouth

What happens next? Your family doctor or pediatrician may recommend seeing a sleep specialist. The gold standard test for sleep apnea is a sleep study – an overnight stay in a ‘sleep lab.’ The good news is that for kids, parents are allowed to stay. Some sleep labs suggest making it a fun night – dress in your favorite pajamas, bring your favorite DVDs to watch, order take-out food.  An estimated 2 percent of kids may have sleep apnea, just one in 50. Treatments include surgery to remove tonsils and adenoids, which clears up the problem 70 to 90 percent of the time.           

Has your child faced a sleep study or needed treatment for sleep-disordered breathing problems? Tell us about your experience!