Parents are being encouraged to check on their children’s sleeping habits as the quality of their sleep could be an indicator of sleep-disordered breathing.
An under-reported condition, sleep-disordered breathing can affect a child’s health and wellbeing.
University of South Australia researcher Professor Kurt Lushington said parents can play an important role in the diagnostic process by looking out for the common symptoms which include heavy breathing, snoring, gasping or snorting, and stopping breathing altogether – and then share that information with their child’s doctor.
“During sleep, the muscles keeping the upper airway stiff relax, and as a consequence, the airway narrows, which can cause snoring, snorting or in severe cases, the complete obstruction of the airway,” Professor Lushington said.
“This is known as sleep-disordered breathing, which can lead to a number of problems for children including daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, hyperactivity and poor attention – and potentially worsens school performance.
“The long-term effects are not well understood but research suggests sleep-disordered breathing could also impair cardiovascular and metabolic health.”
In a study of 1,639 children in South Australia, Professor Lushington and colleagues surveyed parents to gauge whether they saw sleep-disordered breathing symptoms as a sleep problem. The findings suggest many parents do hold concerns about their children’s sleeping habits, but it doesn’t translate to them seeking medical help.
Almost all parents of children with sleep-disordered symptoms viewed apnoea as a problem while nearly two-thirds saw snorting, gasping, and being fearful their child would stop breathing as a problem.
Roughly half of parents considered snoring a problem and only one third viewed breathing heavily but not snoring as an issue.
Professor Lushington said the results are surprising given that most parents don’t bring up these concerns with their child’s medical professionals.
“Parents don’t tend to discuss their child’s sleep difficulties at medical consultations – in Australia, it’s estimated only 4% of parents will bring this up with their doctor,” he said.
“The good news from our study is that we found that many parents are already recognising that there is a sleep problem. Prior to this, we had hypothesised that the under-reporting of symptoms suggestive of sleep-disordered breathing, or of sleep problems in general, at medical consultation could be because of the lack of parents’ awareness of a problem existing.”
Professor Lushington suggested in addition to better education for parents on symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing, medical practitioners also need to purposely include questions about sleep at consultations.
“If parents check in to see how well their children are sleeping at night and doctors routinely check in with parents to discuss children’s sleeping habits, we might be able to catch sleep-disordered breathing earlier and take steps to treat it before it affects a child’s behaviour and health.”
The current treatment for sleep-disordered breathing in children is adenotonsillectomy – the removal of adenoid and tonsils – which is known to improve children’s quality of life and sleep.
The research was published in the paper ‘Sleep disordered breathing in children: which symptoms do parents consider a problem?’ in the Sleep Medicine in May.