A snoring child may sound like a purring kitten, but researchers say that if the snoring is chronic, it could be a sign of an underlying sleep disorder that can have wide-ranging effects on learning and behavior.
"Any child that presents with mood issues, irritability, impulsivity, aggressive behavior... attention problems or with academic issues, you have to think about their sleep," says Dr. Judith Owens, who directs the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I.
Dr. Michael Schechter, a pediatric pulmonologist and epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, agrees, and says the problem is fairly common. About 12 percent of children under the age of 10 are habitual snorers. The sound can signal a sleep problem that is sometimes neurological or caused by a blockage in airways that leads to sleep apnea. That's an interruption in breathing that triggers mini-awakenings throughout the night to catch a breath. In other cases, the noise of the snoring alone is enough to disrupt sleep.
Symptoms Like ADHD
But whatever the cause, Schechter says, a recent study suggests that these "habitual snorers" are two to three times more likely than non-snorers to suffer the kinds of behavior and learning problems more typically associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
"It can look a lot like ADHD," Schechter says.
That was the case with 12-year-old Michael Wasylyk, one of Owens' patients in Providence. Michael's mom, Sherry, says his teachers suggested his lack of focus in school and inattention might be ADHD and even implied, she thought, that medication was in order. But Sherry Wasylyk had been noticing other symptoms, including snoring.