Sleep and Behavior
Research has long linked sleep and behavior – in adults. The picture in children has been cloudier. Now a new study of British data evaluated by American academic researchers, makes the picture clearer:
Snoring is not good for children.
The Avon Longitudinal Study
Mothers and fathers filled out questionnaires on children aged 6 – 69 months. Most were then followed until age 7, with special questions asked at ages 4 and 7.
If kids had snoring, mouth breathing, or apneas (stopped breathing episodes) at ages 6-8 months, they had a 40-50% greater chance of behavioral problems years later.
If the problem persisted beyond that time, the behavioral problems were more frequent – and more severe.
What Were the Behavioral Problems?
Kids were assessed by a questionnaire that looked at 4 major areas: sociability and helpfulness; conduct, meaningly mainly getting into trouble; peer problems; and inattention and hyperactivity. The more snoring, the longer the snoring, the more problems developed – even after controlling for factors like age, sex, socio-economic status.
Are These Findings New?
It’s been known for a long time that kids with sleep apnea – often brought on by very large tonsils or weight gain – have considerably higher rates of attention deficit disorder. What had not previously been shown quite as well was the longitudinal development of behavioral problems after the appearance of sleep disordered breathing.
Why Would Sleep Disordered Breathing Cause Trouble?
There are many possible causes. Sleep is needed for rest, restoration, and regeneration of tissues. Kids in particular are growing, in many ways. If they don’t rest well, regeneration and development won’t work right.
Snoring and apneas mean that breathing and circulation are not fully synchronized. When such basic functions do not work properly there are innumerable physiologic effects, only some of which have been worked out in adults.
Third, snoring may be a marker for other inflammatory/auto-immune difficulties going on with children that may lead to further disease and poor function.
What Does This Mean for Schooling?
That kids won’t learn as well. A recent British survey found teachers complaining that 92% of their pupils – at some point in the school day – looked tired or sleepy.
Sleep is needed for memory formation. Anything interfering with sleep will interfere with learning.
Does Snoring Have Other Public Health Effects?
Sadly, yes. If kids do not sleep well they tend to gain weight. Weightier kids don’t do quite as well in school, have more problems socially, and generally became weightier adults.
What Should a Parent Do?
Notice if your kid is snoring, or mouth breathing, or having stopped breathing episodes at night or napping.
You find out by watching them sleep.
If they don’t have such problems, good. If they do, ask their pediatrician to check their tonsils. See if your kid sleeps better on the side than on their back. If they are gaining weight – which can lead to more sleep disordered breathing – make sure they eat breakfast. Then check how they eat and move during the day. Walking after meals can help control weight at any age.
Then survey how they spend their waking and sleeping hours. Are they eating junk food at school? Keeping their electronic devices on through the night? Giving themselves enough hours of sleep to grow normally?
Kids need lots of physical activity – and lots of active rest. It pay to use your body the way it’s built.
At any age.
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