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4/6/21 blog post

my child isn't sleeping well. is something wrong?

when to be concerned about a sleep disorder


If there is one thing the last year has taught us, it’s that we need to make sure that we are getting a good night’s rest to ensure we can tackle whatever the day might throw at us. But how can we, as parents, get good sleep if our kiddos aren’t getting good sleep?

While newborns and babies are known to have nightly wakeups to eat or have their diaper changed, typically, as your child gets older, they should be sleeping comfortably through the night. If they continue to have disrupted sleep, it’s important to know what can be chalked up to “a kid being a kid” versus something more going on.

Has your child recently started:

  • snoring
  • breathing heavy while sleeping
  • seeming very restless during sleep
  • sleeping in unusual positions
  • recent bedwetting (especially if your child had previously stayed dry at night), or acting very tired during the day?  

If you answered yes to any of the above, it may be signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

“Currently, there are ongoing studies as to whether snoring on its own is considered normal for children. But if your child is experiencing any of the other symptoms listed, in addition to snoring, it could be a sign of sleep disordered breathing or OSA  o,” says Elizabeth Knecht, MD, pediatric ENT specialist at Dayton Children’s. “OSA is not something that will go away on its own. If your child is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, for longer than three months, you should talk to your child’s pediatrician.”

what is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?

Sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing during sleep. This is typically caused by something obstructing or blocking the upper airway. OSA causes the body’s oxygen levels to fall and interrupt sleep. This is especially unhealthy for kids because not getting a restful night’s sleep can cause behavior problems, delays in growth and development and potentially heart problems.

what causes OSA?

During sleep the muscles in the back of the throat relax, but with OSA, the muscles relax too much causing the airway to collapse, which in turn makes it hard to breathe. This can also happen if a person has enlarged (big) tonsils or adenoids (germ-fighting tissues at the back of the nasal cavity), which can also block the airway during sleep.

how is OSA treated?

When enlarged tonsils are causing obstructive sleep apnea, your child’s pediatrician will refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. The ENT specialist might recommend removing your child’s tonsils, known as a tonsillectomy, or removing your child’s enlarged adenoids, known as an adenoidectomy. Both surgeries have proven to be effective for patients experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. If your doctor thinks surgery is necessary, you can expect your child’s sleeping to start improving about two weeks following their procedure. If there are other persistent sleep concerns you  have about your child, your ENT provider may recommend a sleep study.

Good sleep is a necessity for growing children! It helps children stay focused and alert during the day, and they are more likely to perform better in school. If your child is struggling to get a good night’s sleep talk to your child’s pediatrician and ask about obstructive sleep apnea.

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Elizabeth Knecht, MD

ear nose and throat (ENT)
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