Sleep Apnea and Academic Performance: 7 Things Parents Need to Know

The affects of sleep apnea on your child.

Sleep Apnea Impacts Learning and Development

Sleep apnea in children often flies under the radar, as it’s often mistakenly considered an adult-only ailment. Yet, it’s a common and disruptive condition that can significantly affect children and their academic performance.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. These interruptions can lead to fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels, resulting in a host of daytime symptoms that can directly impact a child’s ability to learn and thrive in school. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type in both children and adults.

As a parent, understanding the tie between this condition and your child’s academic performance is crucial in helping them navigate the educational journey successfully.

1. OSA is believed to be underdiagnosed despite school trouble being a prominent sign.

OSA is a commonly underdiagnosed medical condition, despite it often being simple to diagnose once action is taken to test for it. Some research suggests millions of Americans could have OSA and not know it, so we can assume that many children and teens also go without a proper diagnosis. As it stands now, upwards of 10% of children have OSA

Countless factors can impact a child’s experience in school, but sleep apnea is something to consider if your child struggles to learn or focus, falls asleep in class, or displays related symptoms of this condition.

2. Sleep apnea negatively affects academic performance, from learning to social experiences.

Without appropriate diagnosis and treatment, sleep apnea can lead to myriad issues affecting a child’s academic success. Prolonged periods of poor-quality sleep can cause difficulties with attention and concentration, impair memory, and severely hinder the overall learning process. These challenges can lead to poor grades, a much less enjoyable educational experience, and difficulty socializing with peers.

3. Professional evaluation is necessary because children may not show obvious symptoms. 

Children with sleep apnea often exhibit signs such as loud snoring, restless sleep, and daytime sleepiness. Often dismissed as typical childhood behaviors, these symptoms can actually indicate a serious sleep disorder. The restless sleep and frequent waking can lead to daytime sleepiness, making it hard for the child to concentrate, stay alert, and perform well in school. Poor quality sleep can also lead to irritability, affecting a child’s social interactions and overall school experience.

4. Cognitive function and learning are impaired when sleep apnea is left untreated. 

Sleep apnea primarily affects cognitive functions related to attention, memory, and decision-making. The frequent interruptions in sleep caused by this condition impair the brain’s ability to concentrate and retain information. Additionally, decision-making capabilities are compromised due to chronic sleep deprivation. A child with sleep apnea may struggle to stay focused during lessons, forget assignments, and make poor choices due to impaired judgment. Consequently, school performance suffers as the child grapples with these cognitive challenges.

5.  Many common behavioral or emotional challenges can be caused or exacerbated by this condition.

In addition to impacting cognitive functions, sleep apnea also exacerbates behavioral and emotional challenges in children, affecting their academic performance. A child grappling with this condition may exhibit mood swings, anxiety, depression, or even aggressive behavior, which can hinder social interactions and focus in school. Therefore, treating sleep apnea is paramount for academic success and protecting a child’s overall well-being and social-emotional development. Recognizing and addressing a sleep disorder can pave the way to improved classroom performance, better interpersonal relationships, and a healthier emotional state.

6.  Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for protecting your child’s physical and mental health.

Early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea can prevent cognitive, behavioral, and health issues that could negatively impact a child’s academic performance. Several treatment options are available, including Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, which uses a machine to keep airways open during sleep. A pediatric dentist who understands this condition can also provide oral appliances designed to adjust jaw position and improve airflow. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and proper sleep routines can also effectively manage this condition.

7. Collaboration with your child’s healthcare professionals ensures successful management of sleep apnea and related health concerns.

Seeing a healthcare provider with experience in treating pediatric sleep apnea is vital for effectively managing the condition. Consult with your pediatrician, who can refer you to a specialized sleep clinic or a pediatric sleep apnea dentist. Dr. Mo can also recommend a customized oral appliance as a non-surgical solution after an OSA diagnosis from a doctor. 

Dr. Mo provides valuable support in managing pediatric sleep apnea and providing non-surgical treatment options. 

Sleep apnea is not merely a nightly struggle, it’s a serious sleep disorder that can adversely affect a child’s academic performance by impeding concentration, memory, and overall cognitive function.

It’s crucial to recognize the potential impact of this sleep disorder on your children’s learning experiences and to seek immediate intervention. Early diagnosis and treatment of OSA, including the aid of Dr. Mo, can dramatically change your child’s life trajectory. Don’t let this condition hinder your child’s chance to thrive in school. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Mo today to learn how your child can breathe easily, sleep well, and excel academically.