FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Parents should pay close attention to their children's sleep patterns because they can be associated with a number of behavioral and cognitive problems, says pediatric pulmonologist Lewis J. Kass, M.D.
Kass, director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at Norwalk Hospital, said recent research shows how disturbed sleep in early childhood can often predict special education needs in children by the time they are 8 years old. “Therefore, essentially any sleep problem ‒ obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, disturbed sleep from asthma ‒ can put your children at risk for needing special education later in childhood.”
Kass also sites a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics describing how snoring in 2- to 3-year-olds predicted behavioral problems as early as two years later. “Based on national surveys that suggest one in five children snore, this has huge ramifications in how we approach a 2-year-old who snores,” said Kass. “It also suggests that we should be more aggressive about addressing the issue early on.
According to Kass, sleep disorders affect children of all ages, although symptoms vary widely depending on their ages. Toddlers, for example, might manifest sleeping issues with frequent tantrums and eliminating naps prematurely. They can also become irritable during the day.
Kindergarten-aged children might show symptoms in the classroom in the form of sleepiness, irritability or hyperactivity, and they could have behavioral issues as well, said Kass.
But as adolescence approaches, sleep deprivation can present itself with poor school grades, hyperactivity and mood swings, said Kass. Among the most common causes of sleep problems in children, he said, are obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, restless legs syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux or narcolepsy. But, he said, "The great news is that anything identified can be treated."
Too often, said Kass, parents learn from a teacher that their child is unfocused, inattentive and/or hyperactive. "Research began trickling in the late 1990s that demonstrated a clear link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and neurocognitive deficits," said Kass. “Research shows that 15 to 65 percent of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have underlying sleep disorders,” he added.
Kass recommends a sleep evaluation for children who have restless, sweaty sleep, nighttime awakenings, daytime sleepiness or irritability, snoring or leg kicks. Evaluations are also recommended for children "if a diagnosis of ADHD has been considered along with persistent bed-wetting, poor school grades, difficult to control asthma, insulin resistance, obesity or chronic headaches."
Recognizing your child's sleep patterns might take a little homework, but doing so could help you all rest a little bit easier.