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Sleep Disorder in Children Linked to Learning Complications

Update Date: Apr 01, 2013 10:01 AM EDT

Sleep apnea is a common and serious sleeping disorder in which breathing patterns, such as normal breathing, are disrupted during sleep. Extreme cases of sleep apnea that go untreated might result in consistently cutting of oxygen, which can dangerously affect the body. Sleep apnea afflicts one in four percent of children between the ages of two to eight and thus, it is vital in understanding how the disease can influence different aspects of a child's learning and growth. A new study done by researchers form the University of Arizona in Tucson revealed that sleep apnea might also be linked to increasing the chances for children in developing attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning complications, and other adaptive disorders.

The researchers, headed by Michelle Perfect, Ph.D., looked at data compiled by the Tucson Children's Assessment of Sleep Apnea Study (TuCASA). This study observed the sleeping habits of 263 children, from six to 11, over a span of five years. They looked into the frequency of the sleeping disorder and the possible consequences that the occurrence of the disorder had on neurobehavioral functioning. The children all participated in an overnight sleep study and were assessed via a rating scale.

The current researchers analyzed the data and found that only 23 children suffered from sleep apnea during the actual sleep study and 21 children suffered from the disorder throughout the entire length of the study. There were also 41 children who originally had sleep apnea, but did not by the end of the study. The researchers concluded that children with an occurrence of sleep apnea were four to five times more likely to develop or have behavioral problems. That rate went up to six times for children who had constant sleep apnea.

"This study provides some helpful information for medical professionals consulting with parents about treatment options for children with SDB [sleep-disordered breathing] that, although it may remit, there are considerable behavioral risks associated with continued SDB," said Perfect.

The researchers also found a relationship between children with sleep apnea and their parents. They noticed that children who suffered from the sleeping disorder more often tended to have parents who suffer from ADHD-like symptoms, communication issues, social competency, and self-care. According to a survey administered by the National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea affects roughly 18 million people, with the majority of them being obese. The genetic and environmental links between parents and their children are important in understanding why certain children have a harder time learning than others despite any sleeping disorders.

The study was published in the Journal Sleep

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