Not all kids are quiet when they sleep.
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On average, 1 in 10 children snore during the night — and we’re not talking about the occasional little stuffy nose sound, either. This is the sort of snoring that draws comparisons to lawnmowers.
It’s a worrisome noise that can lead to sleepless nights for parents. So, should you be concerned if that ruckus comes from your snoozing kid? Let’s get the answer from pediatric otolaryngologist Brandon Hopkins, MD.
What causes snoring?
Snoring happens when your breathing is somewhat blocked during sleep. As the air forces its way through, it causes soft tissues in your mouth, nose and throat to bump into each other and vibrate.
Those vibrations lead to the wheezing, snorting or grumbling sound we all know as snoring, explains Dr. Hopkins.
As we age, this nighttime roar becomes more common and the volume cranks up. Decreasing muscle tone plays a big role in this, as it can lead to more constricted airways. Weight gain contributes, too.
That explains why an estimated 25% of adults snore regularly and nearly half of all adults snore occasionally.
But what about the kiddos?
Reasons why your child might snore
First, let’s put your parental mind at ease: Consistent snoring by your child doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious health problem.
Here are six potential explanations:
Large tonsils and adenoids
The most typical cause of snoring in children has to do with excess (or obstructive) tissue in the throat. “Large tonsils and adenoids are often a source of bulky tissue in the throat and the snoring that results,” says Dr. Hopkins.
Tonsils and/or adenoids can be removed surgically if they severely impact sleep. The procedures are known as a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, respectively.
Learn more about how to decide if removing tonsils or adenoids is right for your child.
Inflammation and nasal congestion brought on by allergies may create breathing obstructions that trigger snoring. Dust mites, pet dander, pollen and other irritants in the air can trigger symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Over-the-counter allergy medications can help tame allergies. Check with your healthcare provider to see what might work best.
Hypoallergenic bedding also may help reduce exposure to in-the-home allergens.
Asthma can bring constricted and swollen airways plus increased mucus production — all factors that can lead to breathing issues and snoring.
The good news? Asthma can be managed. Talk to your healthcare provider to create a plan.
Cartilage and bone known as your nasal septum divide your nose into a left and right side. If the septum is uneven or crooked, it can make breathing a tad more difficult and lead to loud ZZZs, notes Dr. Hopkins.
Deviated septums are pretty common, affecting about 80% of people. The condition can be present at birth, develop during growth stages or happen due to an injury.
Most don’t need treatment for a deviated septum given minimal symptoms or problems. But if the condition is causing breathing or sleeping issues, repairs can be made through a procedure called a septoplasty.
Excess weight in children has been connected to many health issues. Add sleep to the list.
Fatty tissue in your neck can press on your throat while you sleep. This pressure often leads to a constriction of the airway, which sets the stage for snoring throughout the night, explains Dr. Hopkins.
Maintaining a healthy weight can take that pressure off and reduce snoring. There’s even research that shows aerobic exercise can help silence snoring.
Does your child ever wake up at night coughing and gasping for air? If so, they might be experiencing sleep apnea, a disorder that causes them to struggle or even stop breathing while sleeping.
Aside from snoring, symptoms of sleep apnea in children could include:
- Hyperactivity or trouble focusing in school, similar to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Night sweats.
- Frequent arm or leg movements while asleep.
Talk to your family healthcare provider if you suspect your child may have sleep apnea or some other sleep disorder.
When is snoring a cause for concern?
Talk to your pediatrician if you notice any of the following symptoms, which may signal sleep apnea or other issues noted above:
- Your child snores most nights of the week.
- You frequently hear snoring during the night.
- The snoring is very noisy.
- Your child routinely sleeps with their mouth open and chin or neck extended.
- You hear your child pause or gasp while sleeping.
Dr. Hopkins recommends starting a sleep journal if you have concerns, and plan to visit your child’s doctor. Observe and record your child’s sleep habits, starting about one hour after they go to bed.
“Track how many nights of the week snoring occurs and whether it happens frequently, or only occasionally, at night,” he adds. “It’s the sort of information that can help lead to a solution.”
And hopefully, a more restful night of sleep.