Most children sleep without snoring or making much noise at all, but around ten per cent snore regularly. According to recent research, such children (and children who suffer sleep apnoea) are more likely to suffer from behavioural problems such as hyperactivity.
Sleep apnoea is thought to occur in around 2 – 4% of children (it is much more common in adults) and is a condition where the airway becomes blocked temporarily, causing the child to stop breathing until they rouse sufficiently to kick-start their breathing again. In adults it’s usually caused by obesity, but in children it’s normally caused by enlarged adenoids or tonsils.
The awakenings caused by sleep apnoea are too brief for the child to register and they won’t remember them in the morning. But they can happen dozens of times each night and this leads to great tiredness and lethargy – and if the child is at school during the day their teachers will often notice that they are not paying much attention to their lessons and seem to be daydreaming a lot.
The latest research into the long-term effects of these two conditions (snoring and sleep apnoea) was carried out by Dr Karen Bonuck, who studied information provided about 11,000 children in the UK. The information was gathered through questionnaires completed by parents.
Dr Bonuck, of the Einstein College of Medicine in New York, concluded that these conditions can harm certain areas of the brain which, in children, are obviously still developing, and that this might be responsible for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The link might be because of less oxygen reaching the brain, or it might be because it interrupts the process of consolidating information that the brain normally goes through during sleep. Or it might be upsetting the delicate balance of neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain.
Dr Bonuck said, “… this study shows clearly that symptoms do precede behavioural problems and strongly suggests that they are causing these problems.”