Sleep disorders in children are extremely common. Breathing disruptions during sleep with the hallmark symptom of snoring occur in up to 35 percent of children. The mildest form of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is primary snoring, but children, like adults can also suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, a condition associated with prolonged pauses in breathing, low oxygen levels (hypoxaemia) and sleep disruption.
SDB has been associated with increased behavioural problems and poor school performance in children. There is now some evidence that, as in adults, SDB is associated with increased blood pressure, and this could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
In studies funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Ritchie Centre scientists are currently using novel techniques to continuously record blood pressure in children referred to the Melbourne Children’s Sleep Centre for overnight assessment of SDB. We hope these findings will help explain the link between severity of SDB and elevated blood pressure. In new studies, we will also examine the effectiveness SDB treatment in improving blood pressure, school performance, and behaviour.
The team is also examining the brain waves of children with and without SDB to identify sleep pattern markers, which can predict children’s daytime sleepiness, which can in turn affect their behaviour and school performance. New studies are investigating SDB in children with Down syndrome who are particularly susceptible to SDB. We hope that by identifying and treating these children early we will improve their quality of life.