by Christina Elston
Helping a young child whose snoring or apnea interferes with sleep could have implications well beyond some simple shuteye. Experts now believe that sleep-disordered breathing problems (SDB) beginning as early as 6 months can cause brain changes that lead to a host of behavior problems, including aggression or hyperactivity, later in childhood.
These brain changes could be permanent, and the behaviors they provoke might not show up until years later, making it all the more important to identify and treat children with snoring or sleep apnea – even in the first year of life.
A team of researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor studied data on more than 11,000 children in England. Parents were interviewed about their child’s breathing during sleep when their child was 6 months old, and several more times until their child reached age 7. They were asked whether their child snored, or whether they observed their children mouth-breathing at night or experiencing bouts of sleep apnea, where breathing during sleep pauses for 10 to 20 seconds or more.
These parents were also asked about their child’s behavior at ages 4 and 7.
The findings? Children experiencing sleep-related breathing issues were 20 percent to 60 percent more likely than other children to have problems such as hyperactivity, aggression, impulsiveness, or social withdrawal. By age 7, they were 40 percent to 100 percent more likely to have behavior problems. And the worse the sleep trouble (i.e. symptoms peaking when the child is around 2 ½ and persisting), the worse the behavior issues. Children with milder sleep issues, with symptoms that peaked at 6 or 18 months and then abated, also had fewer behavior issues.
Experts say that sleep-disordered breathing disrupts cellular and chemical processes in the brain, causing dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain presiding over attention, executive functioning and self-regulation.
Previous studies have shown that sleep-disordered breathing occurs in 10 percent to 21 percent of children ages 6 months to 6 years. And 40 percent to 80 percent of the three million children in the U.S. receiving special education for a developmental disability also have attention-deficit/hyperactivity, the authors point out. Early identification and treatment of kids with SDB, they believe, could have a huge impact.
by Christina Elston