Babies and toddlers who snore, gasp for breath at night, or breathe with their mouths open in their sleep are more likely to have behavioral problems later, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found.
The longitudinal study is following 8,000 British children based on surveys filled out by their parents. So far has found that at ages 4 and 7 the children with "sleep-disordered breathing" exhibit behavioral issues from hyperactivity to social problems and emotional issues at a higher rate--50 percent higher at age 7--than children who do not have the disordered breathing.
"It probably has to do with an abnormal gas exchange where the brain gets too little oxygen during sleep, which has potential effects on the prefrontal cortex," study author Karen Bonuck told The Boston Globe, referring to the area of the brain that governs self-control and decision-making. Globe health blogger Deborah Kotz writes:
That certainly sounds scary to any parent who's ever heard snoring drifting down the hallway at night, but Bonuck said there's no cause for alarm.
First of all, a lot of kids snore or breathe funny when they sleep. In the study, 55 percent of parents reported that their children exhibited disordered breathing behaviors -- and most of these children didn't have any behavioral problems.
Parents should, though, discuss snoring or other breathing abnormalities during sleep with their child's doctor. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors screen for sleep apnea in children and refer them on for exams with ear, nose and throat specialists if they suspect any problems. Surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids (clumps of immune tissue that lie at the back of the throat) is the most common treatment for those determined to have obstructed breathing, and some recent studies suggest that it can help improve behavioral issues such as hyperactivity in children with disordered sleep breathing.
Image: Sleeping child, via Shutterstock.