Never disturb a sleeping baby. (Photo: Getty Images)
We all know babies need their sleep. But what happens if they don't get enough of it?
A new study of babies with snoring, mouth-breathing, and sleep-apnea problems suggests that having sleep disorders early in life could correlate to behavioral and emotional problems later. Looking at children between six and 69 months, researchers found a 60 percent higher risk of behavioral problems such as hyperactivity by age seven. Not only were the children with the worst sleep-related symptoms the ones most likely to develop hyperactivity, but even children whose symptoms abated after 18 months were up to 50 percent more likely to have behavioral problems than those who never had sleep difficulties.
In other words, sleep is important. Said lead researcher Karen Bonuck, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to Time: “Sleep is a time to restore the brain’s cellular and chemical homeostasis. When sleep is disordered, the brain receives less oxygen than it needs, and may get more carbon dioxide than it needs.”
The connection between sleep and health is well documented. Adults with habitual sleep disorders are at greater risk for serious health problems. Snorers often have lower blood oxygen levels, causing their hearts to pump harder and blood pressure to rise. The stress of not getting enough oxygen can also cause the body to produce adrenalin, which causes elevated blood-sugar levels and could eventually lead to diabetes.
Since babies are still developing their neural connections and pathways, chronic sleep interruption can be even more dangerous. But before parents panic, it's worth noting that sleep problems in children are quite common. Said Bonuck: "There's no reason for parents to be alarmed. Our evidence appears to provide the strongest evidence to date that [sleep disorders] do play a causal role and therefore reducing these symptoms particularly early in life is likely to have some benefit in reducing future problems."
What's more, with early identification, treatment has been effective. As long as parents catch the onset of chronic sleeping disorders in time, there's reason to think children can make a full recovery. As Rajiv Naik, MD, a pediatrician with the Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said in an email to MedPage Today: "Many children have been cured of their behavioral problems with appropriate treatment of their sleep disturbance."