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According to a new study published in the medical journal PLOS ONE, sleep apnea has a direct effect on a child’s memory consolidation, with the associated loss of sleep having both long term and short term effects.

For this study, children between the ages of 5 and 9 were split into three group: a control, a group that snored, and a group that has OSA (or, obstructive sleep apnea). The children were evaluated overnight at the Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Sleep Laboratory.

Children in the study were first tested with a spatial declarative memory task like turning over cards to find matching images and psychomotor vigilance tasks like pressing a button whenever a certain color circle appears on a computer screen. Not surprisingly, the study showed that children with OSA had significantly impaired memory consolidation, and that it actually correlated directly with their number of reduced sleep spindles (short bursts activity in the brain that happen during sleep). And the children who snored the most saw the biggest reduction in sleep spindles.

In short, the brain’s memory processes are disrupted with even mild cases of sleep disorders, and OSA treatment could be especially beneficial for children. And given that up to 4% of children have OSA, it’s something worth paying attention to.

The study was conducted with a small group of children, but the correlation is undeniable. And when scientists start to understand exactly how sleep apnea affects memory in children, there’s a greater chance they can begin to reverse the effects.

If you think your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, some of the biggest signs to look out for are loud snoring, gasping for breath during sleep, constant thrashing in the bed, and unexplained bedwetting. If those signs appear on a regular basis, ask your doctor about a sleep study.

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