Previous research has also suggested that sleep-disordered breathing affects brain physiology via a lack of oxygen to the brain, carbon dioxide buildup and abnormal gas exchanges, Bonuck explained. For children, that may have a long-lasting impact.
"We are sleeping to restore our brains, and sleep-disordered breathing interferes with that process," Bonuck explained. "For kids, these are critical periods in brain development."
Heidi Connolly, division chief for pediatric sleep medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, said the study adds to a growing body of research showing that snoring, mouth breathing and sleep apnea in children should be taken seriously.
"These findings echo many of the other studies that show having sleep apnea and symptoms of snoring are bad for neurodevelopmental outcomes in children," Connolly said.
While snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, it can have other causes, such as nasal allergies. Other studies suggest that even snoring alone, without apnea, can cause kids to do worse developmentally, she added.
"We need to think of that in primary care settings, and screen children for snoring," she said. "Kids who snore need to be evaluated and treated promptly, as you would any other medical condition."
Snoring occurs when the palate and the base of the tongue vibrate against each other. In sleep apnea, the airway is blocked. When kids try to breathe, negative pressure squeezes the airway shut, Connolly explained. That causes kids to wake up partially to take a breath.
Obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea in children, but normal-weight kids can get it, too.
"If your child is snoring on a nightly basis, not just when they are exposed to tobacco smoke or they have a cold or they just hung out with the neighbors' cat that th
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