Your Child's Brain NOT on Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea in children needs treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Treating your child's sleep apnea means more than ensuring that they get a good night's sleep. It might also mean they get better grades and remember to do their chores more often.

A very small study that hasn't yet been published has produced preliminary results showing that treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in children results in improved cognitive function and better memory, seen in MRI images as well.

"Be sure your child's sleep apnea is treated."

Ann Halbower, MD, an associate professor at the Children's Hospital Sleep Center and University of Colorado at Denver, and colleagues looked at the impact of treatment on obstructive sleep apnea for children.

The researchers studied 15 children aged 8 to 11 who had moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea, and compared them to seven children without sleep apnea.

Both groups of children were given neurological and psychological tests as well as MRIs to get images of their brains, both at the start of the study and following treatment of the children with sleep apnea.

The children with sleep apnea were treated first with an adenotonsillectomy, a surgical procedure that removes the adenoids and tonsils of a child, and then given CPAP or nasal treatments following their surgery.

CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is delivered by the patient wearing a mask that pushes air into the patient's airways to keep the airways open.

When the study began, before treatment, the children with sleep apnea had significantly lower scores for a particular brain measurement in two parts of the brain: the left hippocampus and the left frontal cortex.

The children with sleep apnea also had shorter attention spans and poorer verbal memory. After these children were treated, however, the MRI images showed that the abnormalities observed in the hippocampus and the left and right frontal cortex disappeared.

The children with treated sleep apnea also showed "medium to large" improvements in their verbal memory and attention. These changes corresponded to the changes seen in the MRI images.

"OSA is known to be associated with deficits in attention, cognition, and executive function," Dr. Halbower said. "Treatment of OSA in children can reverse neuronal brain injury, correlated with improvements in attention and verbal memory in these patients."

Dr. Halbower said that earlier treatment of obstructive sleep apnea in children might lead to a faster improvement in the hippocampus, which is responsible for primary brain functions as well learning and memory.

"Our results point to the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of OSA in children, as it could potentially have profound effects on their development," Dr. Halbower said.

The study was presented May 20 at the American Thoracic Society's 2012 International Conference in San Francisco. Because it is unpublished, other scientists have not reviewed it for a journal inclusion, and the data is still being analyzed, so it may change before potential publication.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Research Resources. Information regarding possible conflicts of interest was not available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 23, 2012
Last Updated:
August 2, 2012