Study objectives: To comprehensively review research on the association between childhood sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and neurobehavioral functioning.
Design: Qualitative and quantitative literature review.
Patients or participants: N/A.
Measurements and results: The findings of 61 studies of the relationship between childhood SDB and neurobehavioral functioning were critically evaluated and synthesized. There is strong evidence that childhood SDB is associated with deficits in behavior and emotion regulation, scholastic performance, sustained attention, selective attention, and alertness. There is also evidence that SDB has minimal association with a child's typical mood, expressive language skills, visual perception, and working memory. Findings have been insufficient to draw conclusions about intelligence, memory, and some aspects of executive functioning. Mechanisms by which SDB might result in neurobehavioral morbidity are being explored, but clinical symptoms such as chronic snoring remain the best predictors of morbidity. Short-term SDB treatment outcome studies are encouraging, but the long-term outcomes are not known. Failing to treat SDB appears to leave children at risk for long-term neurobehavioral deficits.
Conclusions: Childhood SDB is associated with neurobehavioral morbidity. Applying commonly used guidelines for causal inference, even in the absence of a much-needed randomized clinical trial, there is strong evidence of association, consistent findings, and specificity of effect. There is suggestive evidence that this association fits the expected temporal pattern and that SDB is a biologically plausible cause of neurobehavioral deficits. Clinicians should be alert to the coexistence of SDB symptoms and concerns about a child's academic progress, attention, arousal, or behavior or emotion regulation.