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Less sleep links to myriad problems in kids

February 3, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The National Sleep Foundation says 90 percent of parents think their child is getting enough sleep, but 60 percent of high school kids report extreme daytime sleepiness. Researchers believe some hidden problems may be keeping your child from getting quality sleep.From toddlers to teens more than two million kids have sleep disorders.

Three-year-old Jack Frank's nighttime snoring and daytime grouchiness led to a diagnosis of sleep apnea.

The fix wasn't meds or machines. Instead, surgeons took out his tonsils.

"That amount of obstruction in the back of the throat can contribute to difficulty with sleep apnea," said Dr. Leslie H. Boyce, a pediatric sleep specialist UNC School of Medicine

One study found tonsillectomies along with removing the adenoids improved sleep for 80 to 90 percent of kids.

"Even kids who don't have official abnormalities on their sleep study but have big tonsils and snore actually benefit cognitively by having their tonsils removed, and they do better in school," said Boyce.

Sleep disorders may also disguise themselves. In a pediatrics study, 28 percent of kids referred to a doctor for sleep problems also had ADHD. After treating the sleep disorder, 50 percent no longer qualified for an ADHD diagnosis.

In teens, sleep problems impact academics. In one study, A students received 15 more minutes of sleep than B students who got 11 more minutes of shut eye than C students.

"My grades started dropping because I couldn't focus," said 16-year-old Michelle Figueroa.

Doctors say fixing nighttime problems is a start to solving daytime stress for kids of all ages.

More information on kids and sleep

Children sleep disorders:

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, many children have sleeping problems. Some children wake early, grind teeth, feel drowsy during the day, have nightmares, talk during sleep, wet their bed, have troubling falling asleep, can't stay asleep throughout the night and wake up crying. Many childhood sleeping problems are closely related, a mixture of poor sleeping habits and anxiety about going to bed. For young children, it is common to have separation anxiety when bedtime comes around.

Childhood sleep apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep apnea in children. Obstructive sleep apnea describes a condition where a young child may stop breathing for a few seconds at a time during sleep. Doctors say tonsils blocking the airways can cause sleep apnea. Children who have obstructive sleep apnea only have mild symptoms and usually outgrow the condition. Some symptoms of sleep apnea include: snoring, gasping for air, irritability, nighttime awakening, bluish discoloration of the skin, bedwetting and constant daytime sleepiness. If the condition goes untreated, children can have failure to thrive, attention deficit disorder, obesity, poor academic performance and behavioral problems. (Source: American Academy of Family Physicians)

Tonsillectomies and improved sleep for kids:

Tonsillectomy is a procedure that removes the tonsils from the back of the throat when they cause frequent infections or sleep apnea in children. Tonsillectomy is completed at the same time as an adenoidectomy, which is the removal of the adenoid glands. Tonsillectomies are popular with young children who have trouble sleeping at night. In fact, sleep-disordered breathing is the number one reason to get your tonsils removed. (Source: USA Weekend)

The procedure itself is about 20 minutes long and requires the child to receive general anesthesia. The surgery takes place in an operating room, and there are no cuts through the skin to assess the tonsils. Tonsils are tissue clumps on both sides of the throat used to trap bacteria and viruses and prevent them from entering the body. Tonsils also produce antibodies to help fight infections. Though the tonsils' general function is to protect the body against infections, those children with large tonsils and those who have trouble sleeping may experience different effects. Large tonsils usually block the airways. (Source: National Library of Medicine)

For More Information, contact the UNC patient information line at (919) 966-7890.