Is there anything sweeter than a sleeping child? How about when your little one begins softy snoring?

While pint-sized snores can be adorable, new research suggests that chronic snoring in kids might be something to pay attention to, mama.

A new study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine has found a link between habitual snoring and structural brain changes in children. Researchers say that disrupted sleep could contribute to behavioral problems like lack of focus, hyperactivity, and learning difficulties.

Researchers examined MRI brain images of more than 10,000 9- to 10-year-olds in the United States and found that those who snored three or more days a week, as reported by their parents, were more likely to have thinner gray matter in areas of the brain that are responsible for higher reasoning skills and impulse control. The thinner cortex is linked with behavioral disturbances associated with sleep-disordered breathing.

“This is the largest study of its kind detailing the association between snoring and brain abnormalities,” says study lead author Amal Isaiah, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Otorhinolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and Pediatrics at UMSOM. “These brain changes are similar to what you would see in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Children have a loss of cognitive control, which is additionally associated with disruptive behavior.”

Up to 10 percent of American children suffer from sleep-disordered breathing, which can be treated with tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, and many of them are being misdiagnosed with ADHD.

“If you have a child who is snoring more than twice a week, that child needs to be evaluated,” Dr. Isaiah urges parents. “We now have strong structural evidence from brain imaging to reinforce the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep-disordered breathing in children.”

“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. More research is needed to validate such mechanisms for these relationships which may also lead to further treatment approaches,” adds study co-author Linda Chang, MD, MS, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine.

The researchers plan to conduct a follow-up study to see if children who continue to snore regularly experience worsening brain findings.

If your child is a chronic snorer, don’t panic, mama, but make sure to alert your pediatrician so you can make a plan of action that works best for your family.