An Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study shows that habitual snoring in children is associated with behavioral issues. The report finds that children who snored most frequently had the worst reported behavioral issues, while snoring was also associated with reduction in the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls a child’s problem solving, socialization, and impulse control.
Obstructive sleep disordered breathing (oSDB) in children is characterized by resistance to airflow in the upper airway and is present in almost 10% of children in the United States. This can result in snoring and difficulty breathing, with or without paused breathing.
Multiple studies have shown that oSDB symptoms and behavioral issues, such as inattention, aggression, and hyperactivity, have a clear relationship with one another. Parents typically report these symptoms, which are also important for the screening and diagnosis of sleep apnea. The diagnosis and treatment of pediatric sleep apnea is directly related to the very common childhood surgeries of tonsil- and/or adenoid-removal.
Given the prevalence of oSDB, the ABCD study examined the long-term development of 10,140 children, with an average age of approximately 10 years. The children were evenly split by sex, with 52.3% male and 47.7% female. Habitual snoring was the predominant parent-reported symptom of oSDB, at 6.5%. Childhood behavior was also parent-reported using a child behavior checklist (an age-specific form, filled out by an adult, reporting ratings of certain behaviors); the external shape and dimensions of the children’s brains were analyzed to see if there was a difference in cortical (the outer part of the brain) volume and/or thickness with the presence of snoring, gasping, or general breathing difficulties while sleeping.
The ABCD study has further confirmed what previous studies have stated: habitual snoring in children is associated with behavioral issues. Furthermore, children who snored most frequently had the worst reported behavioral issues. Snoring was also associated with some thinning and volume reduction in the brain’s frontal lobe. Subcortical portions of the brain (areas deeper in the brain) seem to remain unchanged.
Additional studies are still needed to further strengthen the link between snoring, other sleep-related breathing difficulties, and behavioral issues.