There seems to be something magical and peaceful about watching a child sleep. So it might surprise you to know that the results of a recent study of 11,000 children revealed that those who experienced breathing problems during sleep were 40 to 100 percent more likely to develop behavioral problems by age 7, compared to children without breathing problems.
According to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, sleep problems such as snoring, mouth breathing, and sleep apnea (abnormally long pauses in breathing during sleep) can cause behavioral, social and emotional issues in children, including:
- Emotional symptoms, such as anxiety and depression
- Peer problems
- Conduct problems, such as aggressiveness and rule-breaking
- Prosocial behavior, such as sharing, helpfulness, etc.
Recently published online in the journal Pediatrics, the study is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind.
Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) reportedly peaks from two to six years of age, but also occurs in younger children. The American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery reports that about 10 percent of children snore regularly and 2 to 4 percent have sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, common conditions among children, are often the culprit.
The children were evaluated from 6 to 69 months of age (nearly 6 years old). During this time, parents were asked to complete questionnaires about their children's SDB symptoms at various intervals. Findings showed that:
- Children whose symptoms peaked early - at 6 or 18 months - were 40 percent and 50 percent more likely, respectively, to experience behavioral problems at age 7 compared with normally-breathing children.
- Children with the most serious behavioral problems were those with SDB symptoms that persisted throughout the evaluation period and became most severe at 30 months.
For children in whom the problem is enlarged tonsils or adenoids, surgery is typically the recommended treatment. For children who experience SDB as a result of obesity, losing weight may resolve the problem.
While snoring and sleep apnea are fairly common in children, pediatricians and family physicians do not routinely check for sleep-disordered breathing problems. If you notice your child having behavioral problems, it might be a good idea to monitor their sleep patterns. If you notice snoring or disturbed sleep, a visit to your pediatrician might be just what the doctor ordered to ensure a good night’s sleep and a happy, well-adjusted child.