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Sleep Breathing Disorders Linked to Behavior Problems

Children's hyperactivity, aggression cited in new study

Sleep-disordered breathing in children can lead to increased hyperactivity, aggressiveness and problems in relationships with other kids.
Sleep-disordered breathing in children can lead to increased hyperactivity, aggressiveness and problems in relationships with other kids.
Art Chimes

When sleeping children don't breathe properly, it can lead to serious behavioral and emotional problems, according to a new study.

Sleep-disordered breathing includes a variety of conditions including snoring, mouth-breathing, and sleep apnea. An estimated one child in 10 snores regularly, and a smaller number suffer from the other conditions.

In a new study, published in Pediatrics, parents were asked about their children's breathing from infancy up to about age six. They also filled out a behavior questionnaire at ages four and seven. Researchers led by Karen Bonuck, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, sifted through the data.

"The central finding overall is that sleep-disordered breathing is associated with a 50 percent increase in adverse neurobehavioral outcomes," she said. Those "adverse neurobehavioral outcomes" most notably include hyperactivity, but also aggressiveness and problems in relationships with other children.

Bonuck says the more significant the breathing problems were, the more serious the behavioral issues were likely to be. "What we found was the worst outcomes were seen in the children with the worst symptoms."

This isn't the first study to link children's sleep issues with behavioral problems, but it was big enough - with some 11,000 youngsters involved - to rule out other possible causes.

"Before this study, certainly we knew of a lot of the adverse effects in terms of behavior, growth, cognition," she said. "The difference with our study is we studied lots of kids, we followed them for nearly six years, and these were a general population."

Bonuck notes that some earlier studies tracked children for a shorter period of time, or were limited, for example, to tonsillectomy patients.

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