Babies and children * Healthy living

Children's snoring linked to behavioural problems

Children s snoring linked to behavioural problems May reduce oxygen reaching child's developing brain

Young children who snore or have other sleep-related breathing problems are more likely to have behavioural problems later in life, a study suggests.

A six year study of more than 11,000 children living in the UK found that young children with signs of sleep-disordered breathing are more likely to develop behavioural and emotional problems when older.

Sleep-disordered-breathing is a general term used to describe breathing difficulties during sleep including mouth breathing, snoring and sleep apnoea.

"This is the strongest evidence to date that snoring, mouth breathing, and apnoea (abnormally long pauses in breathing during sleep) can have serious behavioural and social-emotional consequences for children," said study leader Dr Karen Bonuck, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"Parents and paediatricians alike should be paying closer attention to sleep-disordered-breathing in young children, perhaps as early as the first year of life."

For the study, the researchers asked parents to fill out a questionnaire about their child's sleeping habits at regular intervals over a six year period, starting when their child was six months old. They also filled in behaviour questionnaires when their children were four and seven years old.

Children with sleep breathing problems during sleep were between 40 to 100 per cent more likely to have "neurobehavioural problems" by the time they reached seven, the researchers said.

Children whose sleep breathing problems peaked early, at six or 18 months, were 40 per cent and 50 per cent more likely, respectively, to have behavioural problems by the age of seven, compared with children who breathed normally while sleeping, the study found.

The most serious behavioural problems were seen in children with sleep breathing problems which persisted throughout the six years and peaked at two and a half years old.

The researchers suggested that sleep disordered breathing could affect a child's behaviour by reducing the amount of oxygen and increasing the amount of carbon dioxide to a child's developing brain. It could also affect the balance of various chemicals within the brain, as well as interrupting the restorative processes of sleep.

"Although snoring and apnoea are relatively common in children, paediatricians and family physicians do not routinely check for sleep-disordered breathing," Dr Bonuck said.

"In many cases, the doctor will simply ask parents, 'How is your child sleeping?' Instead, physicians need to specifically ask parents whether their children are experiencing one or more of the symptoms—snoring, mouth breathing or apnoea—of sleep."

She added: "As for parents, if they suspect that their child is showing symptoms of sleep-disordered-breathing, they should ask their paediatrician or family physician if their child needs to be evaluated by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat physician) or sleep specialist."

The study is published online in the journal Pediatrics.

This article was published on Mon 5 March 2012



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