Every parent recognizes the importance of sleep, both for themselves and their kids. Good sleep habits like regular bedtimes and wake-up times, good-night routines, and setting the right scene with the best sleep products for kids can make a huge difference in whether your child is well rested and ready to be focus at school, play with friends, or just generally be in a good mood the next day. But one thing moms and dads can’t really control could be a factor in children’s behavioral issues like hyperactivity and inattention: snoring.
Sure, a little snort here and there can sound super cute coming out of your little one’s mouth (or nose) while they doze, but if your child snores several days a week, that’s something parents should note, according to a large new study published in the journal Nature Communications. The concerning results found a link between frequent snoring and structural brain changes in children, which can manifest in hyperactivity and inattention.
Researchers looked at data from MRI brain images of more than 10,000 kids in the United States between the ages of 9 and 10, as well as data from those children’s parents on how often their kids snore and standard checklists to measure childhood behavior. The researchers found that kids who snore three or more times per week had thinner gray matter in several areas of their brains.
“These are parts of the brain responsible for behavioral regulation,” study researcher Dr. Amal Isaiah, an associate professor of otorhinolaryngology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told HuffPost. “It applies to maintenance of attention and what we call ‘cognitive flexibility,’ which is basically regulation of one’s own behavior,” otherwise known as reasoning and impulse control.
Children who were reported by their parents as being frequent snorers also tended to exhibit increasing severity of “problem behaviors,” Dr. Isaiah said.
While the study just shows correlation and not causation. Dr. Isaiah said that a causal effect is a possibility. Snoring is known to cause people to wake up more frequently, and can affect the amount of oxygen getting to the brain. More research will be needed to prove a causal effect.
“From a biological perspective, if you think about snoring, it means that air is not flowing freely,” he said, and that could cause changes in brain structure and children’s behavior, he hypothesized.
About 30 percent of kids experience light, occasional snoring, with about another 10 percent snore two or more nights per week and frequently throughout the night, according to the Sleep Foundation. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, it’s estimated that 1 to 4 percent of children suffer from sleep apnea, the involuntary cessation of breathing while sleeping, usually indicated by heavy snoring.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that it is important for parents and caregivers of frequent snorers to talk to their pediatrician about it, because of how disruptive snoring is to the quality of their sleep, which is necessary for overall health. Treating snoring in kids can be as simple as adjusting their sleep environment or as complicated as removing a child’s tonsils and adenoids, which might be obstructing their airway.