Does Sleep Apnea in Children Cause Behavioral Changes?

Everyone knows the importance of a good night's sleep -- or at least you realize it when you find yourself lacking in shut-eye. Children who have sleep apnea may briefly wake up multiple times during the night due to breathing difficulties. These sleep interruptions can take a toll on your child's behavior and daily life. Your pediatrician can help you manage your child's sleep apnea so that he can get back to being himself.

Behavioral Changes

Some children may experience behavioral changes because of sleep apnea while others may not experience any at all. Irritability and sleepiness are common behavioral changes, along with hyperactivity and declining school performance, says Boston Children's Hospital. Long-term behavioral and emotional consequences may include the development of mood disorders or learning disabilities. Children suffering from sleep apnea may also show a shortened attention span and an inability to focus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They may frequently fall asleep during class or recess.

Other Changes

Parents who suspect their child may have sleep apnea may be thrown off if the child demonstrates hyperactive behavior. Other telltale signs of sleep apnea in children may include:

  • occasionally wetting the bed
  • loud snoring
  • morning headaches
  • dry mouth in the mornings
  • waking up during the night gasping for breath
  • according to Boston Children's Hospital

If your child frequently complains of these symptoms, it may be time to intervene. Your child's pediatrician may evaluate her before referring you to a pediatrician who specializes in sleep disorders.

Handling Behavioral Changes

It can be difficult to handle your child's irritability or to tolerate his hyperactivity. Your pediatrician can give you pointers on how to handle and manage these behavioral changes as you seek treatment for your child's sleep apnea. It may turn out that your child's behavior is typical for his age and not related to sleep apnea at all. In that case, he may outgrow some behaviors with time. Consistency is most important, and you should not let your child get away with something at home that you would discipline him for in public, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Additional Help

Most behavioral changes caused by sleep apnea gradually fade when the condition is properly treated. Weight loss may relieve sleep apnea symptoms in overweight children, while others may require surgical removal of the tonsils or the use of a device called a CPAP machine to support your child's airways, according to Boston Children's Hospital 4. Your child's doctor can help you figure out the best course of treatment for sleep apnea.