Sleep Apnea and Teen Academic Performance

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

The average academic grades of children and teens with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are worse than the grades of students who have no sleep-disordered breathing, according to a research led by Dean W. Beebe, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics in the division of behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. Tests conducted by Beebe and his researchers found that obstructive sleep apnea was particularly associated with inattention and poor study skills in real-world situations, which could cause functional impairment at school. The study involved 163 children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 years. Results indicate that moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea was linked to both lower academic grades and behavioral concerns expressed by parents and teachers. Students with moderate to severe sleep apnea averaged a half-letter grade lower than those without any evidence of sleep-disordered breathing. None of the students with moderate to severe OSA had an "A" average, and 30 percent of them had a "C" average or lower. In contrast, roughly 15 percent of participants without sleep-disordered breathing had an "A" average, and only about 15 percent had a "C" average or lower. "Academic performance in middle and high school has implications for adult outcomes, including high school graduation, college admission and completion, and adult mental illness and substance abuse," said Beebe. "Similarly, the poor attention and other deficits reported by both parents and teachers of subjects with obstructive sleep apnea raise concerns about the long-term prospects of teens with sleep-disordered breathing." According to the researchers, the negative effect of OSA on the academic success of children and teens could have ramifications that extend beyond the classroom. In contrast, there was no significant link between OSA and office-based tests that measured aspects of neurobehavioral functioning such as intelligence, memory and problem solving.