Sleep Apnea in Teenagers: Does Your Teen have a Sleeping Disorder?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that many adults suffer with. However, many people don’t realize that teenagers are also susceptible. Unfortunately, this dangerous disorder does not discriminate based on age. Just like adults, teenagers may be suffering from frequent or extended pauses in breathing during sleep.

At the Bethesda Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Bethesda, Maryland, we treat adults and teenagers for sleep apnea. Our trained and professional staff has experiencing in helping patients find relief from their sleep apnea. This sleeping disorder can cause a ripple effect through every aspect of your teen’s life. It’s important to seek out diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible if your teen has symptoms.

How Your Teen should be Sleeping

A growing teenage mind and body needs to get an adequate amount of rest each night. A good night’s sleep will provide them with the energy and clarity of mind to make it through a day of learning. Each night, your teenager, like you, should cycle through the stages of sleep.

Our body has a natural clock that helps determine sleep cycles, moods, alertness, and metabolism. The pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin, which helps keep our natural clock running. The melatonin is secreted at night to helps lower body temperature and induce sleep. Once asleep your body cycles through rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). Brain waves, eye movements, and even muscle tension can identify which stage of sleep you are in. When we dream, we are in REM sleep. The other stages of sleep all fall under NREM sleep. Drifting off to sleep and intermediate sleep are the first two stages of NREM sleep. The third and fourth stages of NREM sleep are the deepest level of sleep. This is when the mind and body are healing and rejuvenating themselves.

Sleep apnea disrupts these cycles, including the deepest levels of sleep. This causes the mind and body to suffer as they aren’t getting the rest that they need. The lack of quality sleep achieved during the night is the root cause for most sleep apnea symptoms.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Teenagers

The symptoms of sleep apnea in teenagers are very similar to the symptoms seen in adults. Unfortunately, because few teens are diagnosed with sleep apnea, the symptoms are often believed to have a different cause. Sleeping disorders can be difficult to diagnose in teenagers. It’s not uncommon for a teenager to get insufficient rest. This can be due to extracurricular activities, social events, or just staying up too late. However, falling asleep in class or being drowsy throughout the day are indications that your teen may be suffering from sleep apnea.

Teenagers should be getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night. When their sleep cycle is disrupted constantly throughout the night due to apnea episodes, they miss out on vital sleep. This can result in excessive tiredness, poor memory, irritability, and mood swings. In teenagers, the lack of sleep can also lead to problems with complexion and weight. Weight gain can also worsen sleep apnea, making symptoms more severe.

Teenagers suffering from sleep apnea may also complain about waking up in the morning with headaches. You may hear them snoring, snorting, or gasping for breath throughout the night. It’s also common to wake up with a sore throat. If your teenager is displaying symptoms consistent with a lack of sleep and any of these additional symptoms then you may want to seek medical advice.

Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea in Your Teenager

After speaking with your doctor about your concerns they may first check your teenager’s tonsils and adenoids. If enlarged, your doctor may recommend they be removed. Since sleep apnea occurs as a result of an obstructed airway, removing the tissue may allow them to breathe easier. If the cause isn’t immediately apparent then there’s a good chance that your child’s doctor may recommend they undergo a sleep study.

There are a number of different types of sleep studies. Speak with your child’s doctor to determine which type of study will work best. Some studies can be conducted at home while others would require an overnight stay at a sleep center. During a sleep study data is monitored and analyzed to reach a conclusion about any potential sleeping disorders. The collected data is then relayed back to your child’s doctor for evaluation.

If sleep apnea is diagnosed then you, your teenager’s doctor, and your child will need to work together to develop a treatment plan. This plan may be dependent on the underlying cause of sleep apnea. Treatments could include the use of a dental appliance to keep the airway open, surgery, or weight loss. Another common sleep apnea treatment method is to sleep with a CPAP machine. A CPAP machine creates continuous positive airway pressure to help keep the airway open. Often times this method is used in conjunction with other treatment options until your teenager overcomes their sleeping disorder.

If you have any questions about sleep apnea treatment options, please call the Bethesda Center for Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Bethesda, Maryland at (301) 530-3600.