A new study suggests that young children who snore excessively or have other breathing issues at night may have a greater risk of behavioural and emotional problems later on. This has obtained massive press coverage throughout the world and it has been widely accepted.
According to this new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, any sleep-related breathing problems like these may seriously increase the chances a child will become hyperactive, overly aggressive, anxious, or depressed.
In adults, sleep-related breathing problems have regularly been closely linked to daytime sleepiness, accidents, and the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic disorders. The effects of sleep-related breathing problems on children are less well understood, perhaps until now.
A team of Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York commenced by following the health and development of more than 11,000 children that were born in South West England between April 1991 and December 1992. In addition, over time, their parents periodically answered questionnaires about health and behavior patterns.
This new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is the largest yet to examine the question. For this study, they followed more than 13,000 children to age seven from infancy.
Based on parents’ reports, 55 percent of the children in the study had symptoms of some kind of breathing problems at some point during infancy or early childhood. Eight percent of the children were in the “worst case” group described by the researchers. They had breathing symptoms that “peaked” between the age of two and three, and then carried on.
The team found that overall, children with sleep-disordered breathing, regardless of the age at which they had it, were more likely to develop symptoms of behavioral or emotional disorders, including anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), by the age of seven.
The results were extremely overwhelming – there was clear evidence.
Overall, the chance of these children experiencing those disorders was about 5.5 percent greater than the children who experienced no breathing problems. The worst-case group represented the biggest risk, with nearly 18 percent facing possible emotional disorders by age 7.
While other variables like parents’ income, race, birth weight and whether mothers smoked during pregnancy could have all contributed to the outcomes, the researchers said that the strongest effect definitely came from sleep-disordered breathing.
For example, among the “worst case” kids, sleep-disordered breathing was linked to an increase of 72 percent in the risk of behavioral and emotional symptoms at age seven, even considering all the other factors.
So if that’s the evidence – what is being done as a result of it?
It being an American study, though based on British children, they as usual lead the way. It is now recommended that paediatricians should screen all children for snoring and, if warranted, refer them to a sleep centre for further testing and evaluation.
There are a number of potential treatments for youngsters who have breathing troubles related to sleep. In many children we know that enlarged tonsils or adenoids often cause the problem, and removing them can improve night-time breathing. For other children, night-time breathing problems can be exacerbated by weight, and losing weight will often lead to improvement.
So obviously this is something for parents to be aware of and make any contribution they can – particularly as far as diet is concerned.
The study underlines that it’s important to pay attention to your child’s breathing during sleep. Let your doctor know if your child snores or briefly stops breathing.
As Doctor Claire McCarthy, an assistant professor in paediatrics at Harvard Medical School stated, “A video can be worth a thousand words. These days, with so many smart phones having video cameras, it can be easy for parents to show their family doctor what they see and hear.”
Seeing, after all, is believing.
By John Redfern