A study of more than 11 000 children followed for over six years has found that young children with sleep-disordered breathingare prone to developing behavioural difficulties such as hyperactivity and aggressiveness, as well as emotional symptoms and difficulty with peer relationships, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
Their study, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, published online in the Journal Pediatrics.
“This is the strongest evidence to date that snoring, mouth breathing, and apnoea [abnormally long pauses in breathing during sleep can have serious behavioural and social-emotional consequences for children,” said study leader Karen Bonuck, Ph.D., professor of family and social medicine and of obstetrics & gynaecology and women’s health at Einstein.
“Parents and paediatricians alike should be paying closer attention to sleep-disordered breathing in young children, perhaps as early as the first year of life.”
Children whose symptoms peaked early—at six or 18 months—were 40% and 50% more likely, respectively, to experience behavioural problems at age seven compared with normally-breathing children. Children with the most serious behavioural problems were those with SDB symptoms that persisted throughout the evaluation period and became most severe at 30 months.
Researchers believe that SDB could cause behavioural problems by affecting the brain in several ways: decreasing oxygen levels and increasing carbon dioxide levels in the prefrontal cortex; interrupting the restorative processes of sleep; and disrupting the balance of various cellular and chemical systems.