Snoring may impact cardiovascular health in overweight children

Overweight children who snore may have higher blood pressure during both sleeping and waking hours and their cardiovascular system may not properly ‘rest’ during sleep, a new study has found.

Professor Rosemary Horne

A team of sleep researchers, led by Professor Rosemary Horne in The Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute, studied five different groups of children during sleep, including overweight children and those with a healthy weight, many of whom either snored or had obstructive sleep apnoea.

“Up to half of all overweight children also snore when they are asleep. We know that being overweight and snoring – the key symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea – both have adverse effects on the heart and blood pressure,” Professor Horne says.

The findings of the study – the first to separately examine the effects of being overweight and having obstructive sleep apnoea – have been published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

What is obstructive sleep apnoea in children?

·        During sleep, many children snore and have noisy breathing.  Sometimes parents notice pauses in breathing or apnoeas, and that their children have to exert an increased effort to breathe during sleep.

·        Snoring and apnoea are commonly called sleep disordered breathing and in children this is most often caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids which cause an obstruction during sleep preventing the clear passage of air through the upper airway.

·        While around 15 to 20 per cent of children snore, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is less common and affects approximately 1 to 6 per cent of all children, or 290,000 children and teenagers in Australia.

·        Not all children who snore have OSA. Children with OSA have more than one pause in breathing or apnoea per hour of sleep and often there can be many breathing pauses during the night.

·        Both snoring and OSA disrupt sleep and are associated with falls in oxygen levels during the apnoea and surges in blood pressure when breathing resumes. As a result, both snoring and OSA can adversely affect behaviour, learning and cardiovascular health in children.

Weight predicts blood pressure

The researchers found that the group of overweight children who had obstructive sleep apnoea also had higher blood pressure – both when they were asleep and awake.

“We found that weight predicted blood pressure during both sleeping and waking hours,” Prof Horne says.

“In addition, fewer of the overweight children with obstructive sleep apnoea had the normal fall in heart rate and blood pressure that occurs when you go to sleep. This is important as the lower blood pressure and heart rate when we are asleep allows our cardiovascular system to ‘rest’.

Professor Horne says treatment is important for children with snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea, particularly those who are overweight, in order to avoid long-term effects on cardiovascular health.

“We have shown that treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea lowers blood pressure. This may involve either surgery or medication, depending on the severity of the condition,” Prof Horne says.

Team: Rosemary Horne, Genevieve Shandler, Knarik Tamanyan, Aidan Weichard, Alexsandria Odoi, Sarah Biggs, Margot Davey, Gillian Nixon, Lisa Walter.

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Research Group leading this work