Snoring, and the health problems it creates, is a problem long presumed reserved for adults. But new research reveals that children who snore also suffer during waking hours.
Children who snore regularly show signs of structural changes in their brain that can lead to behavioral problems, such as poor concentration, hyperactivity, and cognitive challenges, to the detriment of their education.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, observed for the first time that children who snore three or more times a week had thinner gray matter in the brain compared to children who sleep normally. Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce gray matter, the areas of the brain most densely populated with neurons, which play a critical role in daily activities, particularly in terms of impulse control and reasoning skills.
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Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine examined MRI images of more than 10,000 children ages 9 to 10 who are enrolled in the National Institutes of Health’s Adolescent Brain Development Study, or ABCD Study, a long-term project to track children’s brains health in the US.
“These brain changes are similar to what would be seen in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” said lead author Dr. Amal Isaiah. “Children have loss of cognitive control, which is also associated with disruptive behavior.”
Obstructive sleep disorders, including snoring, mouth breathing, and breathing pauses during sleep, affect up to 10% of American children – more than 7 million, according to researchers. They added that a “significant” portion of those cases may be misdiagnosed with ADHD and treated with stimulants, which could further complicate sleep.
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“If you have a child who snores more than twice a week, that child should be evaluated,” Isaiah advised. “We now have strong structural evidence from brain imaging to reinforce the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep-disordered breathing in children.”
Isaiah called the project “the largest study of its kind detailing the association between snoring and brain abnormalities.”
For most, the condition can be corrected by tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. “Timely recognition” of the problem is critical, said co-author Dr. Linda Chang.
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“We know that the brain has the ability to repair itself, especially in children,” Chang said. “More research is needed to validate such mechanisms for these relationships, which may also lead to additional treatment approaches.”
Now if scientists could find a formula to simply convince children to go to bed in the first place, an often futile effort that causes parents to lose up to six days of sleep per year.
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