“The results of our study bring out snoring as a possible risk factor for mood problems and cognitive impairment in children,” according to the researchers, led by Eeva T. Aronen, M.D., Ph.D., of Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.
The researchers studied 43 preschoolers who snored (at least once or twice a week, according to their parents) and 46 children who did not snore. The children, average age five years, were evaluated on standard tests of behavior problems, cognitive (intellectual) function, and development.
The results showed a higher rate of mood problems — especially symptoms of anxiety and depression — among the children who snored. Overall, 22 percent of snoring children had mood disorder symptoms severe enough to warrant clinical evaluation, compared to 11 percent of the children who did not snore.
Other types of problems, such as aggressive behavior, were no more frequent among children who snored.
The snoring children were more likely to have other sleep problems, such as nightmares, talking in their sleep, or difficulties going to bed. Cognitive tests also showed some significant differences, including decreased attention and language skills among children who snored.
Several recent studies have linked sleep problems to psychiatric symptoms and cognitive functions in children. Snoring is a common symptom of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), which is caused by obstruction of the upper airway during sleep.
Previous studies of the mental health and cognitive impact of SDB in children have been limited to school-age children. The new results provide evidence of similar links in younger children as well.
Knowing the mental health and developmental impact of SDB in preschool-aged children will help pediatricians and other professionals to recognize the underlying sleep problem, Dr. Aronen and colleagues believe.
They write, “This makes intervening possible before underachieving at school or before more difficult emotional and/or behavioral symptoms develop.”
More research will be needed to evaluate effective treatments for young children with snoring, and whether they help to alleviate the impact on the children’s mood and cognitive functioning.
The study is reported in the April issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.