When you think of sleeping like a baby you conjure up an image of peacefulness. But listen closely for the telltale sounds of trouble.
A major new study, just published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at infants who snored, or had other sleep problems like pauses in breathing, called apnea. Children with those symptoms were far more likely to develop behavior problems later on. How are the behavior problems defined?
"Hyperactivity, emotional regulation, which in children may mean things like emotional lability, how quickly you have temper tantrums, how quick you are to have a meltdown if you get some bad news, your ability to cope with just everyday stressors," explained Dr. Maida Chen.
Dr. Chen is Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Seattle Children's. She commented on the study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine New York. She said the study added evidence to something only suspected until now. Even children whose sleep issues resolved while they were toddlers were far more likely to have behavior problems at age 7.
"If you stress the infant brain with things like bad sleep or perhaps low oxygen levels at a young age, we now have evidence that those effects are going to be sustained into later childhood," said Dr. Chen.
Dr. Chen advised parents who have concerns about their infant's sleep disturbances to bring it up with their pediatrician. There are ways to resolve breathing issues. Having tonsils and adenoids removed is the most common treatment.
Local eight year old Tori FitzGerald went through the surgery at Seattle Children's. Tori's mother Marika explained why they made the choice.
"She would snore. She definitely was a fitful sleeper. She'd wake up with blankets everywhere and soaked in sweat," said Mrs. FitzGerald.
But the surgery was not the final answer for Tori. Even with tonsils out she still wasn't getting a good night's rest.
"You get it on like this," the eight year old said, demonstrating her sleeping device, called a CPAP. That stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Now she goes to sleep with it each night. Prescribed for kids with persistent breathing issues, it helps keep her airway open.
"The improvement with her was remarkable. It was very quick," said Marika FitzGerald.
Tori noticed she can focus better at school now.
"We used to do like one minute math. And I only got like two done, but now I'm getting like eighteen," she beamed.
Her mother said there's another improvement.
"She's a lot less emotional. The little things don't set her off the way they used to," said a relieved Marika FitzGerald.
Dr. Chen said most kids who use CPAP machines will grow out of them when they get big enough for their airways to support their breathing.