Snoring. It’s everyone’s pet peeve, yet about a third of the population does it, and hardly anyone understands the science behind it. In technical terms, snoring is caused by the vibration of respiratory structures due to obstructed air movement during breathing. Snoring is one of many manifestations of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), a medical condition that affects millions of people each year.
Scientists have long been interested in the connection between obesity and SDB, and the connection between SDB and executive functioning, or the ability to get things done. In a study recently released in the Journal of Pediatric Neuropsychology, two faculty members in BYU’s Department of Psychology, studied the connection in obese adolescents and found that they were much more likely to snore and thus have impaired executive function skills.
Doctors Shawn Gale and Chad Jensen state that even though obesity is itself one of the most common medical conditions people suffer from, it is unique in its potential to lead to other even more serious illnesses. It has often been associated with sleep apnea and other SDBs, particularly in the young. Also, SDB in children has been associated with behavioral difficulties and impairment in cognitive and academic function.
Gale, Jensen, and BYU graduate student Jonathan Mietchen sampled 37 adolescents enrolled in a weight loss program. Findings from their study suggest that these adolescents, whose obesity made them at risk for SDB, were rated by a caregivers as having “significantly poorer executive functioning compared to adolescents at minimal risk for SDB.”
Given the fact that the adolescents sampled in this study were enrolled in a weight-loss program, Gale and Jensen suggest that the existence of sleep problems be taken into account by caretakers and clinicians when determining the effectiveness of such programs. It may also be useful for parents and caregivers of obese adolescents to note that there is thus hope for the improvement of not only physical health but mental health and cognitive functioning–life functioning–when that adolescent loses weight.