Children who snore may show changes to brain causing behaviour problems

Sleep problems, including unusual snoring, have been associated with behaviour and learning.  The latest research involving a large number of children has uncovered evidence that behavioural problems in children who habitually snore (three or more nights a week) may be associated with changes in the structure of their brain’s frontal lobe, leading possibly to problems such as inattention or hyperactivity.  The findings have been released by the National Institutes of Health in the USA.

This study is the largest of its kind and confirms the results of previous work, which indicated a link between regular snoring and behavioural problems.  Those children who most frequently snored generally showed worse behaviour.

The findings further showed that snoring is linked to multiple regions of the brain’s frontal lobe, an area involved in cognitive functions such as problem solving, impulse control, and social interactions. The statistical analysis also suggested that the brain differences seen in children who snore may contribute to behavioural problems, but additional work on how snoring, brain structure, and behavioural problems change over time is needed to confirm a causal link.

Frequency of snoring is seen as a form of Obstructive Sleep-Disordered Breathing (oSDB). Children who are screened for snoring may be referred for help.  This may include assessment and treatment for conditions that contribute to oSDB, such as obesity, or evaluation for surgical removal of the adenoids and tonsils.

The ABCD Study, the largest of its kind in the United States, is tracking nearly 12,000 youth as they grow into young adults. Investigators regularly measure participants’ brain structure and activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, and collect psychological, environmental, and cognitive information, as well as biological samples. The goal of the study is to define standards for normal brain and cognitive development and to identify factors that can enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory.

“We know the brain has the ability to repair itself, especially in children, so timely recognition and treatment of obstructive sleep disordered breathing may attenuate these brain changes. More research is needed to validate such mechanisms for these relationships which may also lead to further treatment approaches,” said study co-author Linda Chang, MD, MS, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine who is a co-principal investigator on the ABCD study.




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