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Snoring Costs Young Children More Than Just Peaceful Sleep

August 27, 2012
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In cartoons, to show that a character is sleeping soundly, they are often snoring. It's ironic because, it turns out, snoring is not only a sign that someone is not sleeping peacefully - it is also related to a host of other problems.

For example, recent studies show that children who snore are more predisposed to obesity and diabetes, behavioral problems and even contracting pneumonia.

Snoring is often associated with sleep apnea, which is a sleep-related breathing disorder that interrupts sleep. The snore sound is actually an airway obstruction. And when the sleeper stops breathing, he wakes up. Often, the sleeper isn't even aware he woke up, but these sleep disruptions can do more than just make the person drowsy the next day.

Dr. Thomas Keens, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, participated in a study that examined, for the first time, insulin levels in obese children (for the study, researchers looked specifically at obese adolescent Latino males). The hypothesis was that, obese children would have obstructive sleep apnea that would alter the automatic functions of the brain - like breathing and metabolizing sugar, Keens said.

"With respect to insulin, if kids woke up a lot at night, that seemed to be associated with abnormal glucose and insulin metabolism, which could potentially predispose them or make them at risk for diabetes," Keens said.

Meanwhile, different researchers reported in the May edition of the journal Chest that young children who frequently snore are more likely to contract pneumonia infections than those who sleep more soundly. Researchers believe that children with sleep-related breathing problems have compromised upper-airway filters, which allows infectious organisms to reach the lungs.

Snoring does not just cause physiological problems. A different study released earlier this month and published in the online journal Pediatrics found that preschool-aged children who persistently snore are more likely to have behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, depression and attention problems. In published comments, the lead study author said children who don't get enough sleep are more likely to have behavior problems because being sleepy can make them grumpy. In addition, because the brain builds neurological pathways during sleep, a child who is not getting enough sleep may not be getting the brain connections and strengthening she needs.

The researchers and doctors all agree that parents should speak to their child's pediatrician if they hear them snoring, especially if it happens a lot and lasts a long time.

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