Imagine you are in a doctor’s examination room. You see an exhausted middle-aged woman walking in with a 7 year old boy.
The boy is clearly hyperactive and spends the entire visit hopping around the room while his mother tries to calm him down. She mentions to the doctor that he is inattentive at school and has difficulty doing his homework.
Fast forward six months now. A sleep study and an operation later, the little one can stand still, listen to his mother and draw quietly on a notepad when he visits the doctor. The mother reports that her son is so much better at school; it’s like he’s another child. How did such a drastic change come about? The answer lies in the quality of sleep.
“I can’t count how many patients have come to us with a hyperactive child. I’ve seen three such patients in the past two weeks,” said Eric Haeger, a sleep specialist and Brewster Church member. “It’s incredibly common: About 10% of all children have sleep-related breathing disorders. This, too, is part of a major problem in schools and education. If you look at children in the bottom 10% of school classes, that’s about 50% “have sleep disordered breathing or sleep apnea.” This link to education is incredibly important, but practically unrecognized as there are few pediatric sleep specialists.
Haeger says sleep-related breathing disorders are caused by a size-space mismatch in the mouth and throat. A narrow palate or an enlarged tongue, tonsils or polyps can minimize the breathing space in the airways. If there isn’t enough room to breathe, the airways can collapse while you sleep, causing an event known as apnea. A partially collapsed airway causes an event called hypopnea. This decrease in breathing leads to an increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, which is then measured by the brain. It leads to an increased neurochemical release of fight or flight, which stimulates the brain to resume breathing.
Waking up from sleep interrupts critical sleep processes. In general, the more frequent these events occur, the greater the dysfunction during the day. In children, mild sleep apnea is classified if it occurs 1-5 times an hour. A moderate number is 5-15 times an hour, and anything over 15 indicates severe sleep apnea.
Troubled sleep can be as obvious as snoring loudly, but it can be subtle even when snoring quietly. Haeger explains: “At night, parents should watch out for symptoms such as snoring, excessive arm and leg movements during sleep, bed-wetting after the age of eight, insomnia, nightmares, sleepwalking and sleep-talking.”
Haegar says one should also pay attention to the diurnal symptoms. “During the school day, parents and teachers should look for symptoms like irritability, fatigue, aggression, hyperactivity, and most importantly, learning and attention challenges like attention deficit disorder [DEH1], Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Morning or Chronic Headaches. “
Many people believe that without medical intervention, a child will eventually grow out of their sleep problems on their own. Unfortunately, in most cases, sleep-related breathing disorder is a lifelong medical problem. “I see adult patients every day who have suffered from sleep apnea since childhood,” said Haeger.
Sleep apnea can be treated surgically or nonsurgically. Regardless, the earlier the problem is found and fixed, the better – for both a child and an adult. Treating insomnia in children can greatly improve their chances and optimal performance in the physical, mental, spiritual and educational areas of their life. Just think of the things that could be achieved by helping a child in a significant way at the end of the class.