Elaine Reese Ph.D.

Tell Me a Story

You Snore, You Lose

Children's snoring is linked to lower achievement in school.

Posted Dec 31, 2015

"La mejor vista al despertarse..." Silvia Vinas/Flickr
Source: "La mejor vista al despertarse..." Silvia Vinas/Flickr

Growing up, we all knew at least one kid who snored. At slumber parties, that kid wasn’t exactly shunned, but she did get mocked and laughed at a lot.  As adults, we know that snoring is no laughing matter, especially if sleep apnea is present. Snoring decreases the quality and quantity of sleep and affects our memory, our mood, and our everyday functioning.

What about when children snore? Is it a laughing matter?

Not at all. We should take children’s snoring just as seriously as we do adults’ snoring, if not even more so, because children’s brains are still developing. Poor quality sleep has tangible effects on your children’s ability to control their emotions and behavior – their executive functioning. Poor sleep can even cause your child to temporarily exhibit symptoms that mimic ADHD.

What you may not know is that snoring is also linked to children’s poorer school performance. Study after study reveals mild but consistent deficits in all aspects of academic performance for snorers compared to non-snorers. In an article recently published in the leading journal Pediatrics, Dr. Barbara Galland and team reviewed 16 studies from 12 countries linking “sleep-disordered breathing” to 5- to 17-year-old children’s academic performance. The children with sleep-disordered breathing were almost always identified through parent reports of snoring, although in 5 of the studies, the researchers used the gold standard of polysomnography. The results of a meta-analysis that accounted simultaneously for the effects from all studies were clear: Children who snore perform lower than children who do not snore in all key areas of academic performance: reading, math, and science.

The poor sleep associated with snoring most likely affects children’s learning in several ways. Sleep allows the brain to consolidate new memories.  For instance, in a study with infants, napping for at least 30 minutes within 4 hours of experiencing a novel event helped them to retain those new memories for a longer period of time (Seehagen et al., 2015). Poor sleep could also affect academic performance through children’s poorer behavior and emotion regulation in school. If children are acting out or tired, they’re not listening well, and are not as proficient at encoding new material as it’s taught.  Thus, poor sleep affects children’s learning at both the encoding and the retrieval phases of learning. The longer children experience sleep problems, the more severe the effects.

When should you worry about your child’s snoring, and what should you do about it? Snoring indicates sleep-disordered breathing when it occurs most nights, and when it’s loud. Sleep-disordered breathing is a continuum, with occasional and softer snoring at one end, and loud nightly snoring accompanied by apnea episodes at the other extreme. Treatments also vary in intensity, from mere monitoring to a full adeno-tonsillectomy.

So if you hear your child snoring consistently and loudly, not just when they have a cold, don’t laugh it off. Check it out with a pediatrician promptly. Your child’s academic future will be brighter if they are treated as soon as possible. Their future partners may someday thank you too.

References

Bernier, A., Matte-Gagne, C., & Bouvette-Turcot, A. (2014). Examining the interface of children’s sleep, executive functioning, and caregiving relationships: A plea against silos in the study of biology, cognition, and relationships. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 284-289.

Galland, B., Spruyt, K., Dawes, P., McDowall, P. S., Elder, D., & Schaughency, E. (2015). Sleep disordered breathing and academic performance: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-1677.

Seehagen, S., Konrad, C., Herbert, J. S., & Schneider, S. (2015). Timely sleep facilitates declarative memory consolidation in infants. PNAS, DOI/10.1073/pnas.1414000112.