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How Sleep Issues Affect Children's Academics, Behavior, and Relationships

Even small breathing disturbances can hugely affect children’s academic performance, behavior, social relationships, and extracurricular activities. For most of us, unimpeded breathing occurs automatically throughout the day. However, we spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep, and the way we breathe during this time can have significant implications on the quality of our waking hours.

Sleep-disordered breathing affects a large part of the population. Sleep-disordered breathing includes:

  • Mouth breathing – affecting 55% of children (to read more about the trouble with mouth breathing, click here).

  • Primary snoring – affecting up to 35% of children

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – affecting up to 5% of children

  • Upper airway resistance syndrome – prevalence unknown

How does sleep-disordered breathing affect children’s functioning?

Studies have shown:

  • 25-50% of preschoolers show sleep problems associated with behavior problems.

  • Nearly 65% of children with sleep-disordered breathing have speech production issues.

  • Children who are mouth-breathers exhibit immature auditory processing, poor brain oxygenation, and daytime sleepiness, which could lead to learning disabilities.

  • 50-80% of children with autism spectrum disorder experience sleep problems.

Does your child display any of these problem behaviors that may indicate sleep-disordered breathing?

  • Hyperactivity and fidgeting

  • Decreased attention

  • Poor recall

  • Impaired executive function skills

  • Increased aggression

  • Decreased self-regulation

  • Impaired visual-fine motor skills

  • Poor academic performance

Nighttime Red Flags for Sleep-Disordered Breathing

  • Snoring

  • Audible breathing

  • Cessation of breathing

  • Gasping for air

  • Open-mouth breathing

  • Grinding teeth

  • Sweating

  • Positional changes

  • Hyperextension of the neck

  • Frequent waking

  • Restless sleep

  • Night terrors

  • Sleep walking

What Can You Do?

If your child shows any signs of sleep-disordered breathing, contact a pediatric ENT (ear-nose-throat) physician for a consultation and describe any concerns.


American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics

Journal of Pediatric Disabilities

Seminars in Pediatric Neurology

Sleep Medicine Reviews

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