A new study finds a connection between snoring and structural changes in children’s brains. Those changes can lead to learning problems commonly associated with other disorders.
Everyone knows that sleep is vital when it comes to children’s development. It’s no surprise then that parents often become worried when they hear their kids snoring — especially given that snoring is most commonly associated with older adults. While occasional snoring in children is usually of little concern, frequent or severe snoring can be a sign of disturbed breathing during sleep.
A recent study conducted by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers found that this disturbed breathing can have a serious impact on learning problems if left untreated. Understanding the causes, consequences, and treatments of snoring can help parents make sure their kids are getting the quality sleep they need for optimal development.
Types of Snoring in Kids
Almost everyone — whether adult or child — has occasional episodes of snoring. In fact, minor snoring occurs in up to 27% of children. When that snoring becomes more frequent and interrupts sleep, it can be a sign of obstructive sleep disordered breathing (oSDB), which ranges in severity from primary snoring, where a child snores at least two times a week, to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that’s marked by constant lapses in a child’s breath during the night. Primary snoring affects around 10 and 12% of children while OSA affects 1.2-5.7% of children.
The most common risk factors for snoring in children are:
- Large or swollen tonsils and adenoids
- Anatomic characteristics like a deviated septum
The Impact of Snoring on Learning Problems
A new study shows that obstructed sleep disordered breathing, which is usually indicated by regular or severe snoring in children, can have a seriously detrimental impact on learning and development. In the study, researchers looked at brain MRI scans of children and found that those kids who snore regularly have structural changes in specific regions of the brain.
Specifically, they found that children aged 9-10 who snored at least three times per week (according to their parents) were more likely to have thinner gray matter in several areas of the frontal lobes than children who snored less frequently. Because this is a region that is responsible for higher reasoning skills and impulse control, the researchers believe these changes may account for snoring-associated behavioral problems including hyperactivity, lack of focus, and learning difficulties at school — all of which can have an impact on a child’s learning and development.
Although more research is needed to confirm a causal link between snoring and these developmental problems, these findings point to oSDB as a possible reversible cause of learning problems. This discovery suggests that children should potentially be screened for snoring routinely to help determine if that might be at the root of their difficulties instead of assuming more standard diagnoses like ADHD.
Home Remedies to Improve Sleep in Children
If you notice that your child is snoring frequently, there are a few things you can do before taking them to a doctor to be examined (though that should be a top priority if your child is snoring two or more times per week).
First, check if your child can breathe comfortably through their nose. If there’s any difficulty, you can try cleaning out the nose with a saline rinse. From there, you should start looking for potential sources of allergies that could be interfering with their breathing. Confirming any allergy concerns will require a trip to the doctor.
Another important step is to improve your child’s sleep hygiene, which includes both their sleep-related environment and habits. Make sure your child has a consistent sleep schedule and sleeps in a quiet dark room with limited light and screen exposure right before bedtime.
Prevent Learning Problems Today
Even if your child isn’t snoring frequently — but especially if they are — it’s important to take them to a doctor for evaluation to keep their snoring from creating learning problems that can have a long-lasting impact. At Kid’s Health, our pediatricians can help determine what might be contributing to your child’s snoring as well as the best treatments tailored specifically to your child. Call us or reach out online to schedule a telehealth or in-person appointment at our Beverly, Massachusetts clinic today!...