Kelley Ortiz remembers the night she woke to the sounds of her child snoring. She also noticed Jacqualynn coughing and gasping for air.
"She was waking up every two to three hours because she couldn't breathe," Ortiz said.
Jacqualynn was experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing due to a blocked airway.
"When you're not breathing, your oxygen level goes down and even small dips in oxygen can cause problems, particularly to the developing brain," said Dr. Judith Owens of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The AAP says, to the surprise of many parents, childhood sleep apnea is extremely common, and more cases are popping up at sleep centers across the country, typically in children between the ages of 2 and 6.
"One of the most important risk factors is enlarged tonsils and adenoids," said Owens.
Dr. Merrill Wise with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says another major risk factor is emerging: obesity. The AAP now recommends that pediatricians regularly screen for the disorder.
"They may have problems regulating their behavior, and they may have trouble with attention span, focus, concentration." said Wise.
The condition is often confused with ADHD. A sleep apnea diagnosis made is made with an overnight sleep study.
Ortiz said the sleep study revealed that her daughter had 90 percent blockage. Treatment can include removal of tonsils and adenoids, weight loss, and a special breathing machine, known as a CPAP
After having her tonsils and adenoids removed, the difference for 3-year-old Jacqualynn was night and day.
"She's cheerful. She's happy. She sleeps through the night," said Ortiz.
Children who have sleep apnea also tend to sweat a lot at night. Experts say that's because they're working harder to breathe. If your child is showing signs of sleep apnea, it's important to call your pediatrician.