Most of us consider snoring just a normal part of life. Maybe we have a partner who snores, or a Grandpa who falls asleep in his recliner and snores so loud it’s hard on carry on a conversation in the room. We think of it as a common condition, and while it might be irritating trying to sleep beside a snorer, it usually isn’t anything to worry about.
But is snoring normal for young kids?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most children snore once in a while, but only 10 percent snore on a regular basis, compared to 30 to 40 percent of adults. Snoring is caused by a lack of air moving freely through your nose and mouth during sleep. In adults, it often happens when the airway narrows because of an awkward sleeping position or because of abnormalities in the soft tissue of the throat. It’s less common in kids, so if a child is snoring, there’s sometimes another reason for it.
Snoring in kids can be caused by:
A cold or some other respiratory infection
A small jaw or a small airway
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
Some of these are minor conditions that will pass soon enough, but consistent snoring could point to a more serious issue like sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea?
About 3 percent of all children between the ages of 1 through 9 have sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome, which can be a more serious issue. So much so that in 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children be screened for snoring to see if it’s associated with sleep apnea.
Approximately 1 to 3 percent of children suffer from breathing problems while they sleep. When snoring is accompanied by gasps or pauses in breathing, the child may have sleep apnea. This occurs when the child’s muscles, which are usually relaxed during sleep, become so relaxed that the airway becomes obstructed and the child cannot breathe properly, creating a pause that can last anywhere from a few seconds to a full minute. The brain then alerts the body that it is not breathing properly and the child will usually gasp or snort and start to breathe again.
Naturally, this can be exhausting for a child's body! With of all the waking in the night it can seriously affect quality of sleep and make for cranky kids who have trouble focusing. The American College of Chest Physicians claims that children who snore loudly are twice as likely to have learning problems. It only makes sense: tired kids are way more likely to have trouble concentrating and tend to be overtired…which manifests itself in: hyperactivity! (Your little Energizer Bunny is actually exhausted!)
Good news! There are treatments for sleep apnea that can solve the problem. Often, simply removing the child’s tonsils or adenoids may take care of the issue. Some kids might need to use a machine (CPAP) that will blow air into their nose via a nose mask to keep the airway open and unobstructed.
Having a child who snores regularly isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but make sure you take your child in to your family physician to rule out any underlying conditions that might be affecting sleep quality. This will help ensure a lifetime of sweet (and quiet) dreams.
Your Pediatric Sleep Consultant
M.A.T & Certified Child Sleep Specialist