Everyone snores, even children. But if your little ones snore often and loudly, doctors say they may face other problems, such as hyperactivity, inattention and depression.
Researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center studied 249 children, surveying their mothers about their youngsters' sleeping habits. The study found children who snored loudly at least twice a week at the ages of 2 and 3 had more behavioral problems than children who didn't snore, or who snored at 2 or 3 but not at both ages.
"The strongest predictors of persistent snoring were lower socioeconomic status and the absence or shorter duration of breast-feeding," says Dr. Dean Beebe, director of the hospital's neuropsychology program. "This would suggest that doctors routinely screen for and track snoring, especially in children from poorer families, and refer loudly-snoring children for follow-up care.
"Failing to screen, or taking a 'wait and see' approach on snoring, could make preschool behavior problems worse," he says. "The findings also support the encouragement and facilitation of infant breast-feeding."
Investigators say this is the first study to look at the relationship between continual snoring and behavior problems in preschool children. According to doctors, loud, persistent snoring occurs in approximately one of every 10 children.
"A lot of kids snore every so often, and cartoons make snoring look cute or funny. But loud snoring that lasts for months is not normal, and anything that puts young kids at that much risk for behavioral problems is neither cute nor funny," says Beebe. "That kind of snoring can be a sign of real breathing problems at night that are treatable."
Researchers did not examine the reasons why children snore, Beebe says, but studies on animal models show continual snoring may affect behavior in two ways - through poor sleep quality or bad air exchange.
If the part of the brain that controls moods is not properly rested and does not get proper exchange of oxygen, the brain is altered, which can cause irritability, he says. The mood and behavior of young children likely are affected in similar ways.
Study authors noted that breast-feeding, especially over longer periods of time, seemed to protect toddlers against persistent snoring, even after taking into account other factors in the child's life.
The study is published in this week's edition of "Pediatrics."