It’s All in Your Head: Childhood Snoring Causes Attention Problems
First, while snoring, especially in adults, has always been the source of jokes in TV shows, there really is nothing funny about it, especially in children.
Recent medical studies have confirmed what many parents know from their day-to-day experience. Children with poor sleep, which includes heavy snoring and pauses in their breathing, have a significant association with behavior problems, including attention deficit disorders.
A pediatric neurologist explained it this way at a lecture I attended many years ago. All of us who have children in our house have experienced times when they stay up past their usual bedtime. It seems they always get to a point where they are cranky and moody, and nothing seems right. And they certainly can’t focus on any instructions or tasks. This is the reality that many children with airway obstruction during sleep live with daily. The neurologist went on to say that these children are effectively getting three hours or so of brain rest every night even though they may be in bed asleep for eight hours.
Every time your child stops breathing, the brain awakens slightly. Consequently, their sleep quality is extremely poor, making your child tired and cranky during the day. This can lead to other health problems, including poor growth. This growth abnormality can significantly affect the upper teeth and the hard palate.
Many pediatric dentists have noted that they see patients who have to breathe through their mouth day and night. When that occurs, the normal positioning of the tongue between the upper teeth does not occur. The tongue is a powerful muscle that pushes the teeth outward and expands the palate from side to side. With the tongue low in the mouth during mouth breathing, the palate wants to grow up and becomes narrow.
Bedwetting is another issue frequently associated with poor sleep due to airway obstruction. While not all causes of this problem are due to snoring, it is strongly associated with the poor rest obtained by the neurologic system.
In my practice, I see multiple children with this problem. At least 90% of the time, there is enlargement of the tonsil or adenoid tissue or both, causing the airway narrowing and obstruction.
At Yale University Medical School, the ENT department has pioneered a technique of sub-total or partial tonsil removal instead of the traditional full removal. I have performed this technique on selected patients with no history of repeated tonsillitis or strep throat. It does decrease postoperative pain and improve healing time.