This 4-Year-Old Reality Star Was Just Diagnosed With Sleep Apnea — Here’s How

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Reality star diagnosed with sleep apnea

Fans of the show Little People Big World know that the Roloff family has been through ups and downs in the past several years. Most recently, couple Zach and Tori Roloff announced that their four-year-old daughter, Lilah, was diagnosed with moderate obstructive sleep apnea

Many of the stories we hear about sleep apnea involve adult men and women finding out they have the condition later on in life. Anywhere from one to 11 percent of children have sleep apnea, according to various studies. (1) And, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. 

What exactly is this sleep disorder? According to Yale Medicine, pediatric obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat relax periodically, causing a block in the airway which disrupts breathing. (2)

In children, symptoms include snoring, gasping for air, and heavy breathing while sleeping, in addition to bedwetting, restless sleep, and daytime fatigue. (2) The condition can be dangerous for children, potentially contributing to long term health complications.

How Did Lilah Get Her Sleep Apnea Diagnosis? 

In the most recent episode of Little People Big World, Zach and Tori prepared four-year old Lilah for her sleep study at the doctor. In an exclusive video from People, Zach said that he would be the one with her overnight and was nervous for the experience. 

Lilah’s father, Zach, explained in the video that people with Dwarfism may be at increased risk for sleep apnea complications: “Our airways are built slightly differently than other people, and there is maybe a higher threat of, you know, maybe something going wrong.” (3)

In the video, Zach told his young daughter that they would be putting stickers all over her during the study to try to explain the process. Tori said that Lilah “[thought] she was going to a spa or something.” (3)

According to the Mayo Clinic, a pediatric sleep apnea study can involve the application of sensors to record variables such as brain waves and breathing patterns. (4) As you can imagine, this experience can be stress-inducing for a young child. 

After a positive sleep study experience, Lilah’s results revealed that she has moderate obstructive sleep apnea. “She’s probably going to need her tonsils taken out, and then supposedly after that, the apnea goes away,” Tori explained. (5

The Risks of Sleep Apnea in Children 

Dr. Minal Patel, sleep pediatrician at Pediatrix Medical Group in Austin, Texas, told Sleepopolis that “large tonsils and adenoids; obesity; genetic anomalies, such as Down syndrome; craniofacial abnormalities, such as micrognathia or retrognathia; neuromuscular disorders; and prematurity” can predispose children to sleep apnea. (6)

Sleep apnea has mental and physical health implications, and both children and adults can suffer from the sleep disorder. “If sleep apnea is not treated, it can affect children in several ways including behavioral and cognitive issues,” said Dr. Patel. She explained that this can result in trouble focusing at school, hyperactivity, impulsivity, trouble controlling behavior, anger issues, and anxiety.

Dr. Patel also explained that untreated pediatric sleep apnea can cause “impairment in growth and development, heart function, and daytime sleepiness.”

A number of options are available to treat sleep apnea, and it should always be addressed by a doctor. Dr. Patel told Sleepopolis, “Sleep apnea in children is treated with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids if they are enlarged and providing positive airway pressure through a mask (CPAP) to prevent airway blockage.”

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  1. Tsukada, Eriko et al. “Prevalence of childhood obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and its role in daytime sleepiness.”  October 3, 2018. PLoS One;13(10):e0204409. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204409. 
  2. Yale Medicine. “Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”
  3. Sacks, Hannah. “LPBW’s Zach Roloff Admits He’s ‘Nervous’ as He Takes Daughter Lilah, 4, for Her First Sleep Study (Exclusive).” People. March 25, 2024.
  4. The Mayo Clinic. Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea. July 29, 2023.
  5. Greene, Jordan. “LPBW’s Zach and Tori Roloff’s 4-Year-Old Daughter Diagnosed with a Moderate Form of Sleep Apnea.” People. March 26, 2024.
  6. Patel, Minal. Personal Interview. March 28, 2024.

Brianna Auray

Brianna is a Data Analyst at Sleepopolis. Her goal is to collect, analyze, and interpret data on sleep health and share new insights with our audience. When she's not researching sleep topics, Brianna enjoys working out, traveling, and hiking.

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