Although men are, overall, more likely to suffer from snoring and sleep apnea, we know that there are some times when women have an elevated risk of sleep apnea. One of these includes pregnancy. Sleep apnea during pregnancy, sometimes described as gestational sleep apnea, has been shown to affect mothers and children.

Now a new study shows that these effects may persist for years, potentially impairing children’s reading ability through age nine.

A young girl learning to read a book with her mom

Assessing a Wide Range of Impacts

For this study, which was presented at the annual Australasian Sleep Association conference in Auckland, New Zealand, 209 children born to mothers with sleep apnea to the average of over 626,000 children. The children were tracked from 2002 and 2012, with many different aspects of their health and well-being tracked, including:

  • Childhood death
  • Hospital visits
  • Special needs
  • Math scores on standardized tests in third year of school
  • Reading scores on standardized tests in third year of school

Of these, researchers found strong correlations for hospital visits through age six and reading scores.

Researchers were very confident on their findings about the hospital visits. The lead researcher said that the “study shows without a doubt that maternal sleep apnea during pregnancy is associated with poorer childhood health.”

However, they were more surprised and less confident about the findings related to reading ability. They said that further research would have to be done to verify the connection. However, the results have found at least anecdotal support in a local family.

It’s important to remember that these findings are from a study that’s only been presented at a scholarly conference. They haven’t undergone full peer review, and it’s possible that the results won’t stand up to that level of scrutiny.

Better Screening Needed

One thing researchers seem to agree on is that we need more comprehensive screening for women during pregnancy. We are not fully aware of the extent of impact that maternal sleep apnea may have on children, we do know that the consequences are potentially very dangerous.

In order for children to start off with the best chance of having a happy, healthy, and successful life, we want to make sure they aren’t held back by their mother’s sleep condition. And that begins by making sure that mothers are healthy throughout pregnancy. Women should be screened for sleep apnea during pregnancy (although we may need to develop new screening tools). Women should be offered a comfortable, convenient sleep apnea treatment if they are diagnosed with sleep apnea.

If you are concerned that you may have sleep apnea and want to learn more about treatment options in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with a sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.