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Kids' Snoring Linked to Hyperactivity

Sleep loss could explain some attention problems, new research finds

WEDNESDAY, May 30 , 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- That snore you hear from your grade schooler's room could be the sound of impending behavior problems.

Too much snoring in kids may mean they aren't getting enough sleep, which could lead to hyperactivity and an inability to pay attention, a new study of 5,000 children says.

Many children with behavioral problems aren't truly hyperactive, says study co-author Dr. David Gozal, a professor at the University of Louisville. "Instead, they're [showing] a form of sleepiness."

Gozal described the findings at a meeting this month of the American Thoracic Society, and a report of the study will appear in an upcoming issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Researchers in Kentucky looked at 5,000 6-year-olds and found that the kids who snored too much were twice as likely to suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Gozal says. Of all the children, 11.2 percent suffered from "excessive snoring," which is defined as loud snoring several times a week. Almost one in four of those with ADHD -- who made up 7.3 percent of the total -- snored excessively.

In an adult, sleepiness often translates into a slower, weaker state of being.

But in children, it's very different, Gozal says. As they tire, many kids become wired and try to avoid sleep by being active.

"A tired child is one who doesn't want to go to sleep," he explains. "The ability to control themselves is lost when they're tired. We don't know why it's that way in kids, but it may have something to do with their developing nervous system."

So why are the kids sleepy in the first place? Gozal says the apparent link to snoring -- often a sign of breathing difficulty during sleep -- suggests that medical problems could be at fault.

Snoring is a vibration of muscles in the throat that occurs during breathing, Gozal says. The muscles work properly and don't vibrate during the day, but they "go to sleep" during rest, he adds.

If someone is snoring, his breathing is not ideal. "A snore reveals resistance in the upper airway," Gozal says.

Snoring children could have sleep apnea, a breathing condition that can awaken them throughout the night without their knowledge. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids could also cause poor sleep by hindering breathing.

The research makes sense, says Dr. Stephen Sheldon, director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "We are a sleepy society, and our children are sleepy also," he says.

Many factors keep children from getting enough rest, including nighttime distractions like television and homework, he adds. School starts too early in the morning, and the work shifts of parents often conflict with the sleep needs of their children, he says.

"The children are up when their parents are at home," Sheldon says. "They're not necessarily the times that the child needs to be up."

Unfortunately, scientists don't know enough about how much sleep children need, Sheldon adds. It's fairly well established that adults should get slightly more than eight hours of sleep a night, but the needs of children vary as they grow, he says.

Newborns sleep 16-17 hours a day, but sleep needs slowly decrease to about 11 hours for a child of 5 and a little over nine hours for a 10-year-old. "But it really varies," Sheldon said. "Sleep in adolescence is a whole different thing. We're just beginning to scratch the surface in understanding it."

What To Do

If your child seems hyperactive, consider how she sleeps. If she never sleeps well, it could be a medical problem, Sheldon says. But if your child can sleep soundly in some situations, like in your arms, behavioral problems could be at work. Consult your pediatrician for more advice.

Read about childhood sleep apnea in this fact sheet created by Stanford University.

Learn about sleep disorders that affect infants in this fact sheet at

You also might want to read previous HealthDay articles on sleep.

SOURCES: Interviews with David Gozal, M.D., director, Pediatric Sleep Center, University of Louisville, Ky.; Stephen Sheldon, D.O., associate professor of pediatrics, Northwestern University Medical Center, and director, Sleep Medicine Center, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Ill.
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