Children who regularly snore could be more likely to experience behavioural problems such as hyperactivity and learning difficulties.
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) found that youngsters who snore more than three times a week had thinner grey matter in several regions in the frontal lobes of the brain. These areas are responsible for impulse control and higher reasoning skills.
"This is the largest study of its kind detailing the association between snoring and brain abnormalities," said study lead author Amal Isaiah, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Pediatrics at UMSOM. "These brain changes are similar to what you would see in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Children have loss of cognitive control which is additionally associated with disruptive behaviour."
Scientists studied MRI images from more than 10,000 children aged between nine and 10, who were enrolled in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, the largest of its kind in the U.S.
The data revealed that children who regularly snored - as reported by their parents - had an increased risk of learning disabilities, impulsive behaviour and a lack of focus. Snoring causes disrupted sleep throughout the night due to a reduction in oxygen to the brain and disrupted breathing patterns.
An estimated 10 per cent of children in the U.S. have obstructive sleep-disordered breathing, and there are fears many kids are being misdiagnosed with ADHD and given the wrong medication.
"If you have a child who is snoring more than twice a week, that child needs to be evaluated," said Dr Isaiah. "We now have strong structural evidence from brain imaging to reinforce the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep disordered breathing in children."
Experts hope early diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep-disordered breathing can reduce any brain changes and more research is planned to explore treatment options.
Current treatments include tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, which can improve or cure snoring within a month.