Sleeping Soundly or Snoring? Kids and Sleep Apnea

As much as 4 percent of U.S. children suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

ByABC News via logo
September 5, 2007, 12:00 PM

Sept. 6, 2007 — -- As much as 4 percent of all U.S. children suffer from a sleeping disorder called obstructive sleep apnea.

For 6-year-old Timmy Vail, the sweet sound of sleep was always saturated with snoring, and it worried his mother.

"I noticed his really heavy breathing and snoring," said Kris Vail, Timmy's mother. "I noticed every now and then, when I'd wake up in the middle of the night. I'd hear him just [gasp] like short breaths, and it made me a little nervous."

In addition to Timmy's snoring, doctors found that the youngster had enlarged tonsils, which, along with the snoring, was a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.

The disorder can have huge ramifications for school-age children.

Studies suggest obstructive sleep apnea can lead to lower IQ scores and learning impairment. It also has been linked to cardiac problems and diabetes later in life.

The disorder's nighttime symptoms include snoring, labored breathing and gasping during sleep, while daytime signs can include excessive sleepiness, an inability to concentrate and hyperactivity.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, other symptoms include:

"Children who have obstructive sleep apnea what happens to them is that when they go to sleep, they actually tend to either partially close, or completely close their airway off," said Dr. Sumit Bhargava, attending physician in pediatric respiratory medicine and the co-director of the Yale-New Haven Pediatric Sleep Center in Connecticut.

An early diagnosis is key to dealing with obstructive sleep apnea, and the best way to determine if a person has the disorder is to participate in an overnight sleep study.

That's exactly what Timmy did at the Yale-New Haven Pediatric Sleep Center. After his father read him a bedtime story, Timmy headed to dreamland with dozens of electrodes hooked up to him, which took more than an hour to place all over his body.