There is nothing sweeter than a sleeping child, and it can also be quite cute to hear your sunken child snore from time to time.
But if your child snores several days a week, that’s something to watch out for, a major new study shows. The research, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, found a link between frequent snoring and structural brain changes in children, as well as behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and inattention.
Researchers looked at MRI brain imaging data from more than 10,000 9 to 10-year-olds in the United States, as well as data from those children’s parents on how often their children snore and standard checklists used to assess different areas of childhood. measure. behaviour.
The researchers found that children who usually snore – three or more times a week – had thinner gray matter in various parts of their brains, including those that help control reasoning and impulse control.
“These are parts of the brain that are responsible for behavioral regulation. … It applies to the maintenance of attention and what we call ‘cognitive flexibility’, which is basically the regulation of one’s own behavior, ”said researcher Dr. Amal Isaiah, an associate professor of ENT physician at the University of California. Maryland School of Medicine. HuffPost.
Frequent snorers also tended to exhibit increasingly severe “problem behaviors,” he added.
“I can’t say there is cause and effect here,” said Isaiah. “But from a biological perspective, when you think of snoring, it means that the air cannot flow freely.” That could mean kids either wake up often, or it could change the way kids’ blood transports oxygen to their brains, preventing them from getting enough. And it’s possible that one of those mechanisms (or both) could be behind the link between changes in brain structure and children’s behavior, he hypothesized.
Estimates suggest that nearly 30% of children occasionally snore lightly, while somewhere between 10% and 12% of children experience primary snoring – or snoring that occurs more than two nights a week and often occurs during the night. A smaller percentage of children struggle with obstructive sleep apnea, a more serious sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing repeatedly while asleep.
The new findings aren’t the first to link snoring with brain changes and potential behavioral problems in children, but it’s the largest study to date to confirm the link, Isaiah said.
He noted that the findings significantly reinforce the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines that parents should take children’s snoring seriously.
The group has long said that it’s important for parents and caregivers of frequent snorers to talk to their child’s caregiver about it because it can be so disruptive to their sleep, which children depend on in so many ways.
And, just like in adults, snoring in children can be treated. In some cases, surgery is required to remove a child’s tonsils and adenoids, which can block the airway. In other cases, simple adjustments to a child’s sleeping environment may be enough to help relieve snoring or at least reduce the chances of children being negatively affected by fragmented sleep. Those kinds of changes can be really quite simple, like establishing a consistent sleep schedule and setting children’s rooms to be as quiet and comfortable as possible, says the Sleep Foundation.
Ultimately, the message for parents of snorers is not to panic, but also not to ignore the problem altogether.
“You don’t have to run to treatment right now, but it’s something you should discuss with the pediatrician,” Isaiah said.