Could kids' behavior problems be caused by sleep apnea?

Between one and 10-percent of kids have difficulty breathing when they sleep, which could be a serious condition called obstructive sleep apnea. It does more than just disturb a good night’s sleep; it can create serious behavioral and health problems, and is often misdiagnosed as something else.

Michelle Huegel’s four-year-old son Avyn was born prematurely, with respiratory distress syndrome, but even as he grew into a healthy little boy, a good night’s sleep just wasn’t part of this family’s routine.

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Huegel said, “None of us got a whole lot of sleep for a long time.”

It took an overnight hospital sleep study to find out Avyn had obstructive sleep apnea. He now sleeps with a ventilator that works just like a C-Pap would for an adult.

Sleep specialist David Dubose, MD, FAAP, FAASM, Medical Director at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Sleep Center says poor sleep in kids can create serious problems such as, “hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, inability to complete tasks, inability to stay awake.”

Those behaviors can be mistaken for the symptoms of ADHD.

“Children, before they are diagnosed with ADHD, should be evaluated by a sleep specialist to make sure that they are having adequate sleep,” Dr. Dubose explained.

The disorder is also linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, Type Two Diabetes and adult asthma.

After getting his C-Pap, and better sleep, Avyn’s teacher told Michelle her little boy had changed.

Huegel outlined, “She said he can focus, he’s sitting still now during our reading time, and he’s paying attention!” And now, everyone is getting a good night’s sleep!

Avyn might be able to sleep without a C-Pap in a few years when his jaw grows. That will open his airway, allowing him to breathe on his own. Some kids with sleep apnea are also treated by having their tonsils or adenoids removed. The cost of a sleep study runs between 4,500 and 7,500 dollars, which is covered by most insurance companies.