Children with sleep disorders may be at risk of intellectual impairment, according to researchers at the
Virginia Health System.
In a recent study, UVA researchers discovered that children who snore every night performed considerably lower on vocabulary tests than those who snore less often.
Vocabulary scores is one of the strongest indicators of a child’s IQ and academic success, said Dr. Paul M. Suratt, a pulmonologist who directs the UVA Sleep Laboratory.
Dr. Suratt’s studies show that differences in vocabulary scores attributed to snoring at night can be linked to the IQ differences that have been attributed to levels of lead exposure.
UVA researchers are devoted to predicting factors that cause cognitive impairment or behavior problems in children with sleep disorders.
They have been studying sleep disturbances in children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids for the past seven years.
Sleep disorders may intellectually and behaviorally harm children by interrupting sleeping patterns necessary for growth. According to studies, children with sleep disorders are observed snoring, snorting, gasping, tossing and turning at night while some are irritable, hyperactive and unable to concentrate during the day.
UVA researchers are also determined to find out which children are most likely to suffer cognitive impairment from sleep disorders. This is difficult to tell because children with sleep disordered breathing may have cognitive impairment even if they do not show symptoms of cognitive impairment, Dr. Suratt said.
These symptoms include in drop in oxygen levels, difficulty waking up, and the stop in breathing.
While snoring frequency have resulted to be most reliable in predicting intellectual impairment and behavioral problems, sleep duration and race seem to be potential factors as well.
These factors come from a series of studies involving six to twelve-year-olds. The kids who sleep less and snore nightly perform significantly lower on cognitive tests than children who sleep longer and snore less, Dr. Suratt said. Furthermore, studies indicate that obstructive sleep disordered breathing (OSBD) is observed more often in African American children.
This places them at a greater risk of cognitive impairment, said Dr. Suratt.
To supplement their studies, researchers are working on a device which records breathing sounds during sleep at home. This would improve their research as this is a more sensitive approach for detecting sleep apnea in children than using existing equipment in the labs.
UVA researchers hope to establish risk profiles and treatment plans to minimize the cognitive and behavioral problems that often develop in children with sleep disorders.
Editor's note: Again this type of study is a statistical correlation between the two events. It can never be interpreted as a causal relationship. In this case, snoring does not necessarily cause low IQ in children. However, the possibility can be excluded either.