Written by: Tarig Ali-Dinar, M.D While it might not feel like it to the sleep-deprived parent, your child actually spends a lot of time sleeping. By age 2, the average child has spent about 9,500 hours – or 13 months – asleep. Between 2 to 5 years of age, children spend equal amounts of time awake and asleep, and during childhood and adolescence sleep continues to account for about 40 percent of a child’s day. What happens if sleep is interrupted? Beyond having a cranky kiddo, lack of sleep can have adverse effects on a child’s health. Sleep is crucial to promoting health and bodily function. It maintains memory and cognitive performance. It plays a role in the normal function of the hormone and immune systems, and there is a link between sleep duration and quality and serious health problems, including neurobehavioral changes. How is sleep interrupted? If your child snores, sleeps with the mouth open or has trouble breathing during sleep, it could be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a treatable disorder in which a child’s breathing is partially blocked during sleep. It affects 2 to 5 percent of children across all ages, including infancy. OSA can cause your child to be unusually irritable, tired and hyperactive during the day or have poor school performance. If you think your child has OSA, discuss your concerns with a pediatrician. You may be referred to a pediatric sleep specialist, who will use a non-invasive sleep study to help diagnose your child’s sleep issues. The most common cause of OSA is enlargement of tonsils or adenoids, which can be removed surgically. Other common causes of airway blockage include abnormal facial structure, muscular diseases and being overweight. In addition to surgery, interventions like a nighttime CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which keeps the airway open by blowing air via a nasal/face mask during sleep, are available. When weight is a factor, work with your child’s primary care physician on a weight-loss plan. By taking corrective steps, you can successfully manage your child’s OSA and get them – and yourself – back to sleep.
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