The sight and sound of a young child snoring might seem sweet and funny to many of us in the moment. That buzzy, sawmill noise coming from a sweet-sleeping little person makes for quite a contrast.
But snoring in kids is actually something to take seriously. Especially when it’s routine, snoring can interfere with children’s sleep, health, daytime behaviors, and ability to learn.
Before we jump in further, let’s do a quick refresher on the basic mechanics of snoring: Snoring happens as a result of a narrowed or temporarily blocked air passage. When the breath passes through a constricted airway, the tissues of the airway vibrate—and that vibration creates the noise of snoring.
This basic physiology of snoring is essentially the same, for children and adults. But children face their own risks and consequences from snoring.
Snoring is often a sign of another medical issue
Many children who snore regularly do so because of another, underlying condition. Identifying and treating those conditions can help alleviate children’s snoring, helping them sleep more soundly. Some of the most common causes of snoring and sleep-disordered breathing in children include:
- Large tonsils and adenoids
- Throat or respiratory infections
- Deviated septum
Children can suffer from sleep apnea
It’s not only adults who can develop this more serious form of sleep disordered breathing. Children can have obstructive sleep apnea, too. Not all children who snore have sleep apnea. According to estimates, about 1 in 10 children snore regularly, and an estimated 1-4 percent of children have sleep apnea.
- Signs of sleep apnea in children include:
- Snoring regularly and loudly
- Snorting and gasping during sleep
- Sweating heavily while sleeping
- Sleeping in unusual positions, especially with their head tilted backward
- Trouble waking in the morning, and excessive sleepiness during the day
- Irritability, hyperactivity, and aggressiveness
Sleep disordered breathing is linked to behavioral problems in children
Like adults, children face social and behavioral problems connected to snoring and other forms of sleep disordered breathing. Research shows that young children who snore, have sleep apnea or difficulty breathing during sleep are more likely to experience emotional and behavioral challenges, including hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, and depression, by age seven. Even children who snore occasionally can exhibit some ADHD-like behaviors, according to research.
Snoring is associated with academic issues
Kids who have sleep-disordered breathing, including snoring, are more likely to face challenges in the classroom. They’re at greater risk for problems with attention and focus, and more likely to face difficulty with learning. There may be a relationship between snoring and early childhood and academic issues later on in children’s lives. Research suggests that middle-school children who demonstrate lower academic performance are more likely to have snored as young children.
How to help our kids snore less
Since 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended all children be screened for snoring, and that children who snore regularly be evaluated for sleep apnea. Sleep experts urge parents to tend to allergies, respiratory infections, and other medical issues that may be triggering sleep-disordered breathing, and to work with children from a very young age to help them develop strong sleep habits. The National Sleep Foundation offers a range of tips and advice for helping kids sleep well.
One important way parents can model healthy sleep habits (and strengthen their parenting game)? Tend to their own snoring issues.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds