Seeking Links Between Celiac Disease, Gluten and Childhood Sleep Apnea

Patient Expert
Medically Reviewed

A study published in the journal Seizure in 2015 set out to determine whether children diagnosed with celiac disease were at risk for sleep-disordered breathing (SDB).

SDB refers to a number of sleep-related breathing abnormalities, ranging from simple snoring through to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

In children, SDB can be particularly serious since it has been linked to neurocognitive deficits and even cardiovascular issues.

Is there a link between celiac disease and SDB?

The study published in Seizure involved 19 children aged between three and 17. Each child had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, was of normal weight, and had no nasal congestion.

Each child underwent a standardized general and neurological exam and an EEG. A validated questionnaire was used to assess SDB.

All of the children were then given a gluten-free diet and re-evaluated after six months.

At the start of the study, six children (31.6 percent) showed a positive OSA score. After six months of a gluten-free diet, all the children showed a negative OSA score.

Headache relief

Seven children (36.8 percent) complained of headaches that affected daytime activities at the start of the study. After six months on the gluten-free diet, headaches disappeared in five out of the seven children (71.5 percent) and improved in the remaining two children.

Epilepsy link?

Researchers detected abnormal EEG readings in nine children (47.4 percent) at the start of the study. These disappeared in seven children (77.7 percent) after six months of gluten exclusion.

This suggests that there may be a link between celiac disease and epilepsy — a finding that other studies have suggested, too.

Why does celiac disease appear to be linked to SDB?

As the authors of this study pointed out, the prevalence rate for SDB in the general population is between one and 5.7 percent, yet almost a third of the children in this study originally presented with a positive OSA score.

We already know that sleep health is closely linked to immune system health and that celiac disease is an immune reaction that leads to inflammation. This could explain why the disease may be linked to sleep-related issues such as SDB.

Know the symptoms

Symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Gas
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea

If your child hasn't been diagnosed with celiac disease but you suspect they may be intolerant to gluten, you may want to try introducing an elimination diet for a few weeks to see if their symptoms improve.

If you have a child with celiac disease, it's particularly important to be aware of the symptoms of OSA. These can include:

  • Snoring
  • Bedwetting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Poor concentration and/or attention span

If you suspect your child may have OSA or any other sleep issue, speak with your doctor, who may recommend an overnight sleep study for your child.

See more helpful articles:

Children With Cleft Lip/Palate at Higher Risk for Sleep Disordered Breathing

Is Co-sleeping and Lax Parenting to Blame for Your Child's Sleep Problems?