Kristen Archbold, RN, PhD, has spent 17 years researching connections between sleep and the behavior and thinking patterns of school-aged children. In particular, she is working with children ages 6 to 12 who have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that affects children and adults causing them to stop breathing many times during a night’s sleep. Her latest research explores whether treatment with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine impacts sleep patterns, cognition and behavior for children with this condition.
Dr. Archbold, associate professor in Academic Programs in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $248,460 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health. The one-year grant will be used to support a study titled, “Neurobehavioral Effects of PAP Therapy in Children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”
In the study, children will get either a placebo machine or a CPAP machine for three months, Dr. Archbold said. After three months, the placebo will be replaced with a CPAP machine, and all the children will be on a CPAP machine at that point.
“We can then determine the extent to which use of the machine contributes to any behavioral and cognitive improvements noticed among the children,” she said. With the study, we hope to determine if CPAP therapy treatment for obstructive sleep apnea ultimately helps to improve sleep patterns, cognition and behavior for our children.”
Dr. Archbold and her team are among the first researchers to use a placebo machine with children in an attempt to determine if treatment with a CPAP machine will improve school performance, thinking patterns and behavior in children with apnea. “Adults with obstructive sleep apnea need to use CPAP machines, too. Our team was instrumental in developing the placebo machine in order to be able to run a randomized clinical trial-type study, the industry gold standard for studies trying to identify effective treatments for patients,” she said.
This research is critical to understanding how healthy sleep patterns can help children maximize their learning, and physical and cognitive development. Ultimately, this research may help children with unhealthy sleep patterns maximize their learning and development.
The study may also identify additional benefits for children with apnea. Treatment with consistent use of a CPAP machine has been linked to improved cardiovascular and metabolic health in adults, Dr. Archbold said. “Our research is also hoping to understand if and how this holds true in children who use a CPAP machine on a consistent basis.”