Home / My Blog / Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children – An Experiment

Obstructive sleep apnea in children is something that a lot people, parents included don’t take too seriously. Many of us are under the impression that obstructive sleep apnea only affects older, overweight men. This is absolutely not the case!

Sleep apnea affects old and young, men and women alike. It’s a potentially life-threatening health condition that must be treated.

The Link Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children And Mouth Breathing

I wrote this article about mouth breathing in children recently to explain the link between sleep apnea and mouth breathing, and to show just how important it is to pay attention if a child has an open mouth.

obstructive sleep apnea in children

Mouth breathing doesn’t sound like it would be too much of a problem, but it is, especially in children. You can find out more by reading this article.

I was reminded of an interesting experiment that I took part in at the AAMS Congress in Rome in September. It happened during a one-day workshop on breathing conducted by Buteyko Breathing instructor Patrick McKeown (in conjunction with Dr. James Metz, who covered sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing).

During the workshop, Patrick handed out four thin cocktail straws to each participant. Initially we weren’t sure what he had in mind, but the purpose of this experiment would soon become clear.

Mouth Breathing Through A Straw

Patrick asked us to put all four straws in our mouth at the same time. He then asked us to pinch our nose closed with our fingers, and then to breathe through the straws.

With four straws in place, it was relatively easy to breathe. It wasn’t a totally natural feeling, but it certainly wasn’t enough to cause any stress or discomfort.

He asked us to remove one straw and keep breathing. At this stage, it got a bit more difficult, but the sensation still wasn’t all that difficult to deal with. You wouldn’t want to do it for long, but for a few minutes, it was fine.

However, he then asked us to remove one more straw, taking us down to two. At this point, things became uncomfortable. This wasn’t a situation any of us were comfortable maintaining. Even my husband, who’s an experienced freediver found it challenging.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea in children -an experiment

When Patrick asked everyone to remove one more straw, well, none of us lasted very long.

Patrick pointed out that each straw is only approximately seven mm square. That’s not a lot of room to breathe through, and it obviously doesn’t take much of a reduction in area to make breathing noticeably more difficult.

So imagine what’s happening to someone with a narrow airway while they sleep, especially a child. Even a small amount of restriction in the airway can have an impact on sleep quality. Take a child who actually stops breathing multiple times and hour and think how that must affect them.

Sleep Quality Is Critical To Growing Children

Children are very susceptible to poor sleep, far more so than adults. This is reflected in kids having different parameters to define abnormal breathing patterns in a sleep study.

The scale that’s used to measure sleep disturbances in a sleep study is called the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). According to Web MD, for adults, sleep apnea is categorized as follows:

Normal sleep: Fewer than 5 events per hour

Mild sleep apnea: 5 to 14 events per hour

Moderate sleep apnea: 15 to 29 events per hour

Severe sleep apnea: 30 or more events per hour

These numbers simply don’t apply to children. For them, any AHI score above 1.5 is seen as abnormal!

Given the connection between mouth breathing and sleep apnea and other forms of sleep disordered breathing, it’s so important that parents are paying attention to the way their kids breathe.

What Can Be Done?

The good news is that addressing and treating mouth breathing and sleep problems is entirely possible.

The first step is to start observing your children. Watch them when they’re totally relaxed – watching TV or playing computer games for example. Is the mouth totally closed? Even a small opening is a sign of potential health problems and should be investigated with the help of a myofunctional therapist or a dentist or doctor familiar with the airway.

It’s also very helpful to observe children when they sleep. Look for an open mouth. Listen for snoring. These are both symptoms that could indicate an airway problem, and they should be checked. When it comes to obstructive sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing, a clear diagnosis from a sleep doctor, and working with the right team are the way to get great results that last a lifetime.

The video below from my YouTube channel has some more information that might be helpful:


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