Posted by Ramaa Kishore on March 21, 2007

For long it was assumed sleep disorders affected only adults. The snoring by children would be dismissed as deep breathing that was part of the body’s mechanism in growing up.

But recent evidence from studies on the impact of sleep disturbances on a child’s IQ suggest risk of intellectual impairment due to sleep disorders. That should be a wake-up call for all parents who feel their children do not get enough sleep.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Sleep Laboratory studied sleep disturbances in children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids for the last seven years. They discovered children who snored nightly had significantly low scores on vocabulary tests than those who snored less often.

Considering the fact good vocabulary is a reliable measure of a child’s IQ and the strongest predictor for academic success, the differences in scores associated with nightly snoring prove that sleep is an essential component of healthy development. In fact, dissimilarities in vocabulary due to sleep disorders are equivalent to that from lead exposure.

Children in the age group 6-13 years need eight to ten hours’ sleep every night. However, those with sleep disorders often snore, snort, gasp or simply toss and turn. Besides, they are very reluctant to slip into their beds. These children are hyperactive, irritable and have poor concentration during the day. As a result, their academic performance and social bonding are below par.

It is not academic or intellectual attainments alone that are severely restricted in such children. They have a horde of behavioral problems as an offshoot of the physiological disturbances due to poor sleep. Children who snore usually also tend to spend less time in bed. They fare low in tests of logical reasoning and forming associations.

The University of Virginia researchers are developing a device that would record the nightly breathing patterns of children at sleep. This would help in profiling at-risk children. Amongst the ethno-racial groups, African-American children seem to have the greatest risk of sleep apnea.

Scientists also believe such devices would help in screening children with socially disruptive behavior for probable sleep disorders and to prescribe appropriate treatment.

For some practical tips on helping children sleep adequately, here is a quick checklist:

* Just like set mealtimes, children like to stick to a routine for sleeping hour. There should be specific time to retire for the day.

* Keep a congenial atmosphere at home just before going to bed. No parental fights or slanging matches. If there is silence, children would doze off easily.

* Make the children’s room and bed inviting with bright sheets, comfortable pillows and subtle lighting.

* Let the children wear loose-fitting clothes.

* Read them a story with a lot of fantasies but steer clear of ghosts and spirits.

* Soothing music especially if the mother could sing is a great way to make the child sleep easily.

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