Your fragmented nights and drowsy days may be more than the result of light sleeping. You may suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which you repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night, often for up to a minute or more. It can be caused by a blocked airway, your brain’s failure to signal your muscles or both. If left untreated, as it often is, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases (particularly atherosclerosis), weight gain, memory loss, impotency and headaches, not to mention run-down, yawn-filled mornings. It’s a serious affliction, affecting more than 12 million Americans, and many of them are children.
An estimated two to three percent of six to 16-year-olds has sleep apnea. While that number may seem small, the rise in childhood obesity will contribute to a rise in sleep apnea cases, meaning more and more kids will suffer restless nights. As a result, they will be faced with numerous school difficulties, such as an inability to stay awake and focus, and behavioral problems. Additionally, their IQ scores may drop. Children with sleep apnea have been found to average 15 points lower on IQ tests than those without the condition. It’s unknown whether this is a permanent side effect or simply the result of drowsiness, but it is a legitimate concern. Therefore, as your child sleeps, listen for snoring, gasping or labored breathing and watch for severe sweating and difficulty sleeping at night.
If your child has any of these symptoms, see his pediatrician as soon as possible. You may find that it is a mild case that can be cured with a few simple changes. For example, if your child is overweight, weight loss will be recommended. If he sleeps on his back, the doctor may suggest rolling onto his side, and if he takes any sleep-inducing medications, replacements should be found. However, if it is a more severe case, other steps could be necessary. Tonsil or adenoid removal effectively cures 75 percent of children with sleep apnea. Face masks and mouthpieces have also produced positive results. In fact, the mask has recently been linked to a reduction in the hardening of arteries, thus a reduction of heart disease risk, in men with sleep apnea. So, there are a variety of options. Sleep apnea is a treatable condition; it’s just a matter of knowing when a snore is more than a snore.
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