Sleep Apnea Treatment for Teens Matters

Sleep apnea in teens associated with social and emotional problems

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

(RxWiki News) It's hard enough making it through your teen years in one piece - but having obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can make that journey even tougher on adolescents.

A unpublished study recently presented at a conference has found that teens suffering from sleep apnea are more likely to be aggressive or hyperactive, and have had more difficulties with attention, emotions and social situations.

"Get sleep apnea treated."

Lead author Michelle Perfect, of the Disability and Psychoeducational Studies Department at the University of Tucson in Arizona, and colleagues compared the experiences of children with sleep apnea while they were young kids versus when they were teens.

The study involved 263 children who were studied at two different points as children with about a five-year gap between study points.

During the initial screening, 70 children had sleep apnea. A total of 44 had sleep apnea during the follow-up study points.

All the participants were assessed on a range of behaviors using an established psychology assessment tool, and their results took into account the children's age, gender, race/ethnicity and weight.

The researchers did not find any significant behavioral differences between teens who never had sleep apnea and teens who had it as children but no longer did.

Teens who still had sleep apnea, however, showed a range of difficulties at a higher rate than those without the sleeping disorder.

They were nearly three times more likely to have difficulty with aggressiveness as measured by a psychology assessment on "externalizing problems." While only 10 percent of the teens without sleep apnea were classified as having problems in this area, 29 percent of those with sleep apnea were.

They were also 2.8 times more likely to have trouble with "internalizing problems," such as controlling their emotions.

In measures of "adaptive behaviors" and "behavioral symptoms," the teens with sleep apnea were three times and five times more likely to have difficulties, respectively, compared to those without sleep apnea.

These behavior categories include hyperactivity, problems with attention, aggressiveness and difficulties caring for themselves independently.

"If left untreated, OSA negatively impacts a youth's ability to regulate their behaviors, emotions and social interactions," Perfect said. "These behaviors can interfere with their ability to care for themselves and engage in socially appropriate behaviors – skills that are needed to be successful in school."

The study was presented June 12 at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary and still require review by researchers in the field.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 11, 2012
Last Updated:
October 22, 2012