April 24, 2023 5 min read
Snoring is usually seen as an adult problem, but kids can snore too.
Some studies even show that over half of all preschool kids snore from time to time, while habitual snoring was far less common and occurred in only 8% of all cases . While occasional snoring in childhood is to be expected, habitual snoring in kids can be a sign of trouble.
Because snoring is a symptom and sign that a child is having trouble breathing normally during sleep, their sleep can be seriously affected. And because kids need more sleep than adults to support their developing brains, sleep problems caused by snoring can interfere with normal development and manifest in behavioral problems. Here is why that’s the case and what to do about your child’s snoring.
Snoring is noisy breathing caused by an obstruction in the upper airways. An obstructed upper airway means that air can’t flow freely, causing surrounding tissues to vibrate and produce noise we all know as snoring.
This obstruction can happen for a multitude of reasons: having a respiratory infection, suffering from allergies, having a large neck circumference, overly relaxed neck muscles, enlarged tonsils, and excess weight in the neck area, to name a few. In most cases, the causes of snoring are transient (e.g. viral infections or relaxed neck muscles). But in some instances, snoring can be a chronic problem due to underlying medical or anatomic problems.
When snoring becomes loud, chronic, and severe is when it’s usually a sign of a problem. Chronic snoring is strongly associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops during sleep . Untreated, it increases a person’s risk of developing chronic health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases. In kids, however, OSA can lead to other problems.
About a third of all cases of snoring in preschool children are due to viral infections and allergies . This is also the case with school-aged children. However, enlarged tonsils and adenoids — which are often due to repeated respiratory infections — are another common cause of snoring in this age group . Obesity is another risk factor for snoring in childhood.
While most snoring in childhood is benign, it can also progress to something more serious. In a study published in a 2013 issue ofChest,a third of school-aged children who snored regularly developed OSA over a 4-year period . In this specific sample, however, obesity was the biggest contributing factor to this change. That could mean that snoring caused by other factors may not progress to OSA.
Children require more sleep than adults. The National Sleep Foundation recommends kids get 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day, depending on their age . Kids spend a great deal of their time sleeping for a reason: their developing brains need sleep to grow, recover, and retain information.
Anything that disrupts sleep can interfere with normal brain development during childhood — snoring is no different. This is especially true for snoring due to OSA. And according to current research, this could lead to behavioral problems in children.
A study involving 78 children with snoring or OSA and 156 healthy control subjects found that children with snoring and OSA exhibited more behavioral and other problems, such as :
What’s interesting is that this study found that even mild snoring and OSA had the same impact as more severe cases, suggesting that all snoring in children needs to be taken seriously.
The consequences of untreated snoring in childhood could be more far-reaching even after addressing its underlying causes (e.g. enlarged tonsils). A different study examined how snoring during early childhood affected academic performance in middle school . What this study found was not surprising — kids with lower academic performance were more likely to have snored during early childhood.
Snoring and especially OSA lead to low blood oxygen levels during sleep, which triggers waking and gasping. The damage done by low oxygen flow to the brain and fragmented sleep can especially affect brain areas responsible for learning and memory. Researchers also believe that behavioral problems caused by sleep apnea could indicate frontal lobe damage . The frontal lobe is responsible for higher-level executive functions: planning, reasoning, problem-solving, etc.
All snoring needs to be treated by first identifying its underlying causes.
If allergies are the reason behind a child’s snoring, then treating the symptoms and removing the offending allergen can lead to less snoring. In children whose snoring is due to enlarged adenoids or tonsils, your doctor may recommend surgery. And in kids who are overweight, weight management can help prevent the progression of snoring to OSA.
In children who have already developed OSA, doctors recommend positive airway pressure therapy, where machines blow air into the airway to keep it open. While cumbersome, this treatment is the gold standard for sleep apnea due to its high efficiency.
If nothing else works, experts recommend oral appliances like the Good Morning Snore Solution. These medical devices also help keep the upper airways open by keeping the tongue or jaw slightly forward. Not all kids benefit from oral appliance therapy, and it is important to first speak to your pediatrician before considering this treatment.
While snoring usually starts in adulthood — specifically around midlife — it can happen at any age. Kids can be prone to snoring just as much as adults due to frequent colds, flu infections, or allergies. Their snoring can get worse due to enlarged adenoids and tonsils.
Because multiple studies link snoring to behavioral and academic problems in kids, it’s important to take snoring seriously. If your child snores frequently and throughout the night, their developing brain may not be getting enough oxygen to support growth and development. They may be inattentive, anxious, and irritable during the day and their grades may plummet as a result.
Luckily, most cases of snoring in childhood are treatable. With proper treatment, your little one can get the sleep they need during their formative years.
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