To the Editor:
The Building a Grad Nation report revealed last month that, for the first time, the nation’s high school graduation rate is on track to reach 90 percent by 2020 (“Some States on Pace to Hit 90 Percent High School Grad. Rate by 2020,” College Bound, edweek.org, Feb. 25, 2013). This proves that progress is possible when educators, government, and the private sector combine their efforts for a common good.
But there is an unrecognized condition that also contributes to the dropout crisis. While pursuing my postdoctoral studies at Stanford University’s school of medicine, I was fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Christian Guilleminault, the scientist who discovered sleep apnea in children, on research that played a pivotal role in describing sleep and its effect on cognitive function and performance.
We never could have imagined how far-reaching our research would be. Today, we have irrefutable evidence of the link between learning ability and sleep health.
Researchers have found that sleep apnea causes a reduction of oxygen to the brain and body. Sleep apnea in a developing brain, particularly in children, could lead to permanent neurological damage that affects learning and school performance.
Children are rarely tested for sleep apnea. That needs to change. It should be routine to test children ages 3 to 14 who have key factors such as hyperactivity, snoring, attention difficulties, poor school performance, and obesity.
We owe it to our children to deploy every remedy available to stop the dropout epidemic. Identifying and resolving the impediments to sleep health for children must be one of the remedies. Ensuring that every child in America has a fair chance for a successful future is within our reach.
Asefa J. Mekonnen, M.D.
Director, Premier Sleep Center
Rockville Internal Medicine Group
The writer is also chief of pulmonary medicine at Suburban Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Bethesda, Md.
A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2013 edition of Education Week as Children’s Sleep Health Affects Learning