By Barbara Drosey
Obstructive sleep apnea affects a disproportionate number of children with Down syndrome – 40 to 50 percent – compared to the 3 to 5 percent of their typically developing peers who are affected. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs more frequently during REM sleep, a sleep stage during which the body is completely relaxed, allowing the upper airways to become partially or completely blocked. Children with Down syndrome have midfacial hypoplasia, enlarged tongues, and baseline low muscle tone, all of which make them more prone to obstructive sleep apnea. These repeated obstructions in breathing can cause oxygen deprivation, carbon dioxide retention, and repeated awakenings that prevent children from getting a good night’s sleep.