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Sleep Disturbance and Behavior in Kids


Besides the normal parent-teacher conference, there should not be many instances in preschool for a meeting with the teacher. However, a study from December 2023 has found more commonalities between this young age group. Lack of sleep is fueling behavioral issues causing many preschool teachers to ask for help at home.

One study found that a “higher incidence of sleep disturbances resulted in a higher chance of emotional and behavioral difficulties, particularly at school. The researchers also found that resolving sleep issues resulted in a higher chance of resolving emotional and behavioral issues.”

Confronting the issue from a sleep pattern perspective is important for parents. Along with health risks, unhealthy sleep patterns can lead to difficulties in school, friendships, and family life. Identifying the symptoms is an important first step.

Daytime sleep apnea symptoms in children:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Behavior problems
  • Sleepiness

Nighttime sleep apnea symptoms in children:

  • Snoring
  • Breathing pauses during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Mouth breathing
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning, even after getting the proper amount of sleep

Lack of Sleep Consequences

Disrupted sleep in children can also lead to nightmares or night terrors. Some relate these disruptions as part of the anxiety of ADHD but can be due to the apnea disturbing a full night’s rest. The study even found a 300% increase in behavioral issues when sleep was disrupted frequently.

A young child’s social behavior could produce more fights with friends or behavior issues due to inattentiveness and moodiness. Sleep apnea can result in slower growth and development due to not producing enough growth hormone. Obesity can also contribute to the list of health issues causing your child to have higher resistance to insulin as well as feeling fatigued during the day.

Sleep disorders in children can lead to lower school grades and cranky children to even behavioral problems in their social lives.

The study also highlighted factors that may increase emotional and behavioral difficulties. Those include “excessive screen time, non-parental primary caregivers, divorced parents, a nighttime sleep duration of less than nine hours, and a child being overweight.”

Where Do Parents Go From Here?

The first step is to alert your child’s pediatrician if you believe that your child is suffering from a sleep disorder or was misdiagnosed with ADHD. After a proper physical exam, they will determine if an ENT visit may be needed for enlarged adenoids and/or tonsils or a sleep study.

An A.W.A.K.E. support group through the American Sleep Apnea Association can help with any questions you may have. You can at least connect with people who have experienced misdiagnosis and the road ahead while dealing with pediatric OSA.

If your child still is diagnosed with ADHD, talk to your doctor about options. A non-stimulant may be a better option. These medications take longer to start working than stimulants, but can also improve focus, attention, and impulsivity in a person with ADHD.

The next steps are available with our doctors to diagnose your child correctly. Call Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free pediatric phone consultation at the Alaska Sleep Clinic.

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