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Experts say children should be comfortable in bed and sleep in a quiet, dark room. d3sign/Getty Images
  • Researchers say children who snore regularly are more likely to develop behavioral issues and learning disabilities.
  • That’s because snoring children may be experiencing gray matter loss in their brains.
  • Experts advise parents to make sure their children are in a comfortable bed and sleep in a quiet, dark room.

Is your child a big snorer? If so, it might be time to take them to a specialist — for your sake and theirs.

Children who regularly snore in their sleep may experience gray matter loss in the brain and behavioral issues as a result, a new study from researchers at the University of Maryland finds.

Nearly 1 in 3 children snore occasionally, studies suggest, but most of these cases don’t rise to the level of being problematic. However, as many 10 to 12 percent of kids have potentially more serious snoring issues.

Looking at MRI scans of more than 10,000 children ages 9 to 10, the researchers in the latest study reported that those who snored at night more than three times weekly had thinner gray matter in regions of the brain’s frontal lobes as well as in areas of the brain responsible for impulse control and higher reasoning.

“Gray matter is important for development because it is involved with so many complex brain functions in the frontal lobes, such as maintaining attention, organizing your space and time, and other aspects of what is called executive functions,” Ariel A. Williamson, PhD, DBSM, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a sleep expert for the Pediatric Sleep Council, told Healthline. “Executive functions develop during childhood and are critical for supporting academic, social-emotional, and behavioral skills.”

Therefore, there may be correlations between snoring at night and an increased lack of focus, learning disabilities, and impulsive behaviors, the researchers say.

“For the first time, we see evidence on brain imaging that measures the toll this common condition can take on a child’s neurological development,” Dr. E. Albert Reece, executive vice president for medical affairs at UM Baltimore as well as professor and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told Healthline. “This is an important finding that highlights the need to properly diagnose snoring abnormalities in children.”

If your child is snoring frequently or otherwise sleeping poorly, experts say first try some simple remedies at home.

“Snoring often starts with mouth breathing. Make sure that the child can breathe comfortably through the nose. If there is any difficulty, sometimes cleaning out the nose with a saline rinse can be a big help,” Dr. Soroush Zaghi, an ear, nose, and throat specialist as well as a sleep surgeon in California, told Healthline.

“The next step is to look into potential sources of allergies. Some kids are sensitive to dairy and gluten products, while others may have environmental allergies to dust, mold, pet dander. Once the nose is clear it’s important to practice breathing through the nose,” he said.

You can also take care to improve your child’s sleep by ensuring they’re sleeping in a quiet, dark room.

If the problems continue, then it’s time to consider a visit to the pediatrician.

“Their doctor will assess whether there is a more serious reason for the child’s snoring, such as sleep apnea,” Chelsie Rohrscheib, PhD, a neurologist and sleep specialist at sleep technology company Tatch, told Healthline.

“Based on the diagnosis, the doctor can recommend the best treatment options for your child. This may include medications for allergies or asthma, or surgery to correct abnormalities such as a deviated septum or enlarged tonsils and adenoids,” she said.

Taking these steps proactively can pay dividends for parents and children in the long run.

“We know the brain has the ability to repair itself, especially in children, so timely recognition and treatment of obstructive sleep-disordered breathing may attenuate these brain changes,” said Dr. Linda Chang, a study co-author and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a press release.

“More research is needed to validate such mechanisms for these relationships which may also lead to further treatment approaches,” she said.