Hopefully well before your child has his first birthday, he will be sleeping through the night. Perhaps you have established some cozy bedtime rituals, or perhaps you suffered through some variation of ‘sleep training’. However you got there, if your child is sleeping through the night, then mission accomplished. Or is it? Don’t close that door and put up your feet so fast. Many children start to snore during toddlerhood, and this is one of the most under-recognized, yet concerning, conditions in children.
Nearly all children snore at some point during childhood, even before their first birthday, and, for the most part, this is normal. Snoring is defined as any ‘turbulent’ airflow between the nose and the upper throat. The noise means that there is a blockage somewhere in the air passages.
Some children snore because they have a cold, mild allergies, or mild enlargement of their tonsils and adenoids (lymph node tissue in the back of the throat and nose). Some children will have none of these issues, but may only snore loudly during the very deep stages of sleep, when the muscles in the back of their throat are extremely relaxed, so much so that they hit up against each other and cause a snoring sound. Some may snore more so when they are on their backs, but are quiet sleepers on their sides or stomachs.
Mild variations in breathing patterns during a baby or child’s night of sleep are normal, but there are a few things you need to look for, and, more importantly, listen for, during your child’s sleep. If you hear noise, but your child’s breathing pattern is ‘regular’ (meaning there is a constant beat to it, without pauses or breaks), he likely has a mild degree of snoring, which does not need any further care or concern.
Keep checking on those noises periodically, to make sure they don’t start sounding worse. If you hear your child snore very loudly, to the point where you can even hear him from the next room, or if you notice that your child’s snores are intermixed with pauses in his breathing, followed by gasps for air, he may have a more significant problem such as sleep apnea. If you notice that your child has periods where he is trying to breathe (you may see his chest or stomach muscles move up and down), but there is no air movement, followed by a big gasp or cough, these are very likely periods of sleep apnea, or absence of breathing. This entity, technically termed ‘obstructive sleep apnea, or ‘OSA’’, in the past was considered to be a problem of overweight adults, but it is now clearly recognized that this is a relatively common problem in children. If you think that your child is really struggling to breathe at night, and you hear loud snoring with pauses in his breathing, he may have a degree of ‘OSA’. There are multiple possible causes for this, the most common of which is enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids.