Snoring is very common in adults, and particularly in men – many of us are familiar with the irritation of being woken by a snoring partner. Overall, we consider snoring to be just a normal part of life, but when it happens in children it can sometimes be a cause for concern.

Here, sleep consultant Judy Clark explores the reasons why snoring might occur in young children and answers the serious question of whether child or baby snoring can ever be dangerous.

Is snoring normal in young children?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, around 30 to 40 percent of adults will snore on a regular basis. Most young children will snore occasionally, but in only 10 percent does this become regular. Snoring is caused by an obstruction that prevents the free flow of air around the passages in the mouth and nose during sleep. In adults, it often occurs as the result of an awkward sleeping position, excess weight carried around the neck and throat, or minor abnormalities in the throat’s soft tissue. These causes are less common in children, so child or baby snoring sometimes arises from different issues.

Snoring in children can be caused by:

  • A cold or some other respiratory infection
  • Allergies
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • A small jaw or a small airway
  • Sleep apnoea

Some of these causes are minor and will pass in time, but consistent snoring could indicate a more serious issue such as sleep apnoea.

What is sleep apnoea?

Roughly 3 percent of kids aged between one and nine will suffer from sleep apnoea, or upper airway resistance syndrome. In 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics felt this condition was such a serious issue that they recommended all children should be screened for snoring to see if it is linked to sleep apnoea.

Around 1 to 3 per cent of children are believe to suffer from breathing problems during sleep. Sleep apnoea may be diagnosed when snoring is accompanied by pauses or gasps for breath. These gasps and pauses happen when the muscles around the throat become so relaxed during sleep that they obstruct the airway, making it difficult for the child to breathe. These pauses can last anywhere from a couple of seconds to a full minute. The gasps or snorts for breath occur when the brain has alerted the body that it’s not breathing properly and so acts to kick-starts the breathing process again.

For children, this can have a significant effect on the quality of their sleep and can leave them grumpy and tired upon waking. The American College of Chest Physicians have suggested that children who snore loudly on a regular basis are twice as likely to experiences learning problems due to a reduction in their ability to focus. Children will sleep apnoea may be unhappy or aggressive, suffer from headaches, and may experience poor growth or weight gain.

Treating sleep apnoea

Thankfully, there are treatments available for children suffering from prolonged sleep apnoea which can resolve the problem. Some children might benefit from using a machine (called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)) that will blow air into their nose via a nose mask to keep the airway open and unobstructed. Another solution that is less common now is surgery to remove the child’s tonsils or adenoids. For further details, take a look at this information from the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

So, in answer to the question, is baby snoring dangerous? The answer is not necessarily. Having a child who snores regularly isn’t always a cause for alarm and may not need any treatment at all if it does not appear to be disturbing the child. However, if you are concerned make sure you take your child in to your GP to rule out any underlying conditions that might be affecting sleep quality.

Read more articles from Judy Clark here. Judy is now the official Infant and Child Sleep Consultant for Love Boo!