Sleep-disordered breathing – snoring, mouth breathing and apnea (abnormally long pauses in breathing during sleep) – can affect anyone, but a recent study shows that particularly in very young children, there is more than a good night’s sleep at risk.
A new analysis of data provided by parents of more than 11,000 children in a longitudinal study shows that sleep-disordered breathing in relatively young children, and even in infants, often precedes behavioral problems in those children at 4 and 7 years of age. What researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, led by Karen Bonuck, Ph.D., found wasn’t just a link between trouble sleeping and trouble during the day, but a link between early sleep issues and later behavior problems. It’s a link that’s been seen before, according to NY Times, Dr. Bonuck told me, but the size and depth of the research and the study allowed her and her co-authors to control for other variables that are known to increase the likelihood of some behavioral problems, like higher maternal smoking, prematurity and low birth weight. The result suggests to these researchers that there’s more than just a correlation between later behavioral issues and sleep-disordered breathing (and its underlying causes) in babies and toddlers. Disordered breathing results in “fragmented, disordered sleep,” Dr. Bonuck said. “Sleep has restorative processes the developing brain needs,” and disordered breathing during that sleep, she suggests, might mean that the brain receives too little oxygen or too much carbon dioxide. “That may in turn impact areas of the prefrontal cortex of the brain that really govern a lot of the behavioral outcomes.”