Everyone snores at one time or another, even babies. Most of the time we have an occasional snort... maybe three or four. Children may snore because they have a stuffy nose, a cold, allergies or enlarged tonsils, but persistent snoring could indicate more.
According to a new study focused on two and three year olds, persistent snorers are more likely to have behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, attention issues and depression.
Researchers studied 249 mother-child pairs and found the children who snored at both age 2 and age 3 were nearly 3.5 times more likely to have signs of behavioral issues when compared with those who did not snore at these ages, or who only snored during one of those years. Mothers were asked to report how often their child “snored loudly.”
The children were divided into 3 categories:
Non-snorers – those who snored less than once a week.
Transient-snorers – those who snored more than 2 times a week at age 2 or 3, but not both.
Persistent-snorers - those who snored more than 2 times a week at ages 2 and 3.
All the children were assessed for behavioral problems based on the Behavior Assessment System for Children, an extensively validated behavior questionnaire.
Among the children who snored at both ages, 35% showed signs of behavioral problems. Only 10% percent of non-snorers and 12% of transient snorers showed behavioral problems.
The findings show the importance of getting good sleep, the researchers said.
"We know that if you take away naps for preschoolers, and then give them challenging tasks, they're grumpier," said lead study author Dean Beebe, director of the neuropsychology program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
From a neurological standpoint, lack of proper sleep inhibits the development of pathways between neurons in the brain, Beebe said. "We're talking about a brain that is constantly remodeling through early childhood, with connections being strengthened and weakened," he said. Fixing the underlying cause of snoring can help to reverse these effects, but because parents don't realize the problems with snoring, it often goes untreated.
Experts have also noted that many parents think that snoring is a sign of a deep restful sleep when in fact, it's often just the opposite.
Dr. Sangeeta Chakravorty, director of the pediatric sleep evaluation center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, wasn't surprised by the findings. "Snoring impacts sleep, and sleep loss impacts behaviors," she explained.
But, she noted that the study wasn't able to determine whether the behavior problems were just because the children were tired, or if their snoring was significant enough to cause a chronic lack of oxygen, because the study only included information from the children's mothers. There were no objective data, such as oxygen levels throughout the night.
Chakravorty added that snoring in this age group is actually common. She said enlargement of the adenoids was the biggest cause of snoring, followed by enlarged tonsils. Nasal allergies can also cause snoring, as can abnormalities in the facial structure or the structure of the airway. And obesity can cause snoring in children like it does in adults.
Researchers also found that persistent children snorers were more likely to have been exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, and come from lower socioeconomic households.
Both experts recommended bringing up any persistent snoring with your child's pediatrician. "If you hear your child snoring more than three to four times a week in the absence of an upper respiratory infection [cold], and it lasts more than a month, seek help from the pediatrician," Chakravorty said.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.