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November 2021

Parents, Wake Up: Sleep Problems Now Could Harm Kids’ Health Later

Snoring sometimes serves as the punchline of jokes. But snores often signify a serious disorder: obstructive sleep apnea.


The condition occurs when your muscles relax and block your airway during sleep. Although the risk increases with age, children and even infants aren’t immune. Because kids’ breath is faster and shallower than adults’, apnea can cause a harmful buildup of carbon dioxide in their bloodstream.

Now, researchers have pinpointed another danger linked to childhood apnea. Kids who have it may be at risk for developing high blood pressure as early as their teen years.

New study reveals the harm

A total of 700 children between ages 5 and 12 completed a questionnaire and sleep study. Later—anywhere from 6 to 13 years down the line—421 returned for follow-up.

Children who had apnea from childhood through adolescence were 3 times as likely to develop high blood pressure as teens. That puts them at risk for heart disease and stroke.

The worse the apnea during adolescence, the more elevated the blood pressure. The link was even stronger for males. Experts aren’t sure why but think inflammation may connect the two.

Spot the warning signs

Often, apnea goes undetected. Catching it can help you protect your child’s health and development.

Risk factors include being overweight, frequent congestion, and—in infants—acid reflux. Symptoms often start in the first few years of life and include:

  • Snoring, labored breathing, sweating, strange movements, or pauses in breathing during sleep

  • Excessive sleepiness during the day

  • A rib cage that moves inward when your child inhales

  • Hyperactivity or aggressive behavior

  • Slow heartbeat in infants

Talk with your pediatrician or another healthcare provider if you notice these symptoms. Your child might need to see a sleep doctor, who may suggest a sleep study to diagnose or rule out apnea.





Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2021
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