According to a recent study, more than half of parents believe that snoring signifies a good night's sleep. But pediatricians have a warning: loud snoring can actually be the sign of a serious sleep disorder, one that could put your child at risk for long-term health and behavioral problems.
Kelly Ortiz remembers the night she woke to the sounds of her child Jacqualynn snoring.
"My husband snores pretty loud and she was giving him some competition," she said.
Ortiz also noticed Jacqualynn coughing and gasping for breath.
"She was waking up every two to three hours because she couldn't breathe," she explained.
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 with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, or 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 in children between the ages of two and six.
"One of the most important risk factors is enlarged tonsils and adenoids," said Owens.
Dr. Merrill Wise with the American Academy of Sleep Apnea says another major risk factor is emerging: obesity.
"When children are overweight, some of that weight is in the neck and the structures around the airway, and so it can have a compressive effect," said Wise.
The AAP now recommends that pediatricians regularly screen for the disorder, and that parents learn the symptoms, including daytime symptoms.
"They may have problems regulating their behavior, and they may have trouble with attention span, focus, concentration," said Wise.
In fact, Wise believes the condition is often confused with ADHD. So how is sleep apnea properly diagnosed? An overnight sleep study is considered the gold standard.
Treatment is often successful and can include removal of tonsils and adenoids, weight loss and a special breathing machine known as a CPAP.
"Adults with sleep apnea have a higher risk for hyper tension, strokes, other kinds of cardiovascular disease, and so we also worry that children who are left untreated may develop those longer term consequences," said Owens.
For Ortiz, she says the sleep study revealed Jacqualynn had 90 percent blockage. After having her tonsils and adenoids removed, the difference for her 3-year-old is 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 are working harder to breathe.
If your child is showing signs of sleep apnea, it's important to call your pediatrician. For more information on sleep apnea in children, go to www.healthychildren.org.