I used to think that a snoring baby, or toddler was adorable. Nothing sums up deep sleep better than a peaceful sleeping face with a slack open jaw. It kind of looks like the body is so peaceful and out to it that even the muscles in the face relax. But is it really peaceful or have I been looking at this all wrong?!
It’s no lie that I struggled early on with my sons sleep. That is probably why seeing my children tucked up in their beds gives me a warm and fuzzy ‘I’m rocking this Mum stuff’ feeling. I used to think a snore was just icing on the sleep cake…
Then I recalled somewhere in my parenting journey I had read that children should never breathe through their mouth AND that it was likely a sign something wasn’t right. I started to do some research and dig a little deeper into why a baby or young child might be snoring and what the effects might be.
Unfortunately, that sense of peace and serenity I used to get at the sound of a snoring baby turned out to be misconstrued. Once I did a little research, and had some personal experience, I quickly found out that snoring, mouth breathing, clenching and grinding the teeth, were signs that something wasn’t quite right. In fact these are signs that resulted in surgery to have my sons tonsils and adenoids surgically removed!
Coming from personal experience
I’m not trying to make anyone paranoid by writing this, but out of all the conversations I’ve had with parents, mouth breathing ranks very low. This is why I wanted to give it some attention. Many parents are not aware of the reasons mouth breathing occurs, or the effects it can have on little developing bodies. My hope is that by shining a light on these issues, more parents will learn what to look out for and will seek assistance from the appropriate health professional/s.
The reason I started looking into mouth breathing closely was because I noticed it in my son from a very early age. Alarm bells didn’t start to ring until that was paired with snoring. To be fair, the snoring initially came during a bout of illness or when he had a running nose – I still don’t believe that is cause for concern provided it clears up.
The issue for us was that I started to notice that the snoring didn’t stop when the illness cleared up. It wasn’t something we typically heard every night, but it was clearly not linked to a blocked nose.
This led me to believe it was due to overtiredness – still not really any cause for concern…so I thought. Then we started to see some changes with his sleep and behavior during the day, that was what really pushed me to get him checked.
He started to wake up really tired and grumpy which was quite unlike him. He was also extremely fatigued during the day and would fall asleep on the couch or in the car at the drop of a hat. The snoring also started to happen irrelevant of the position he slept in – he would snore if he was on his tummy.
The final sign something wasn’t right was when my daughter was born and I was up feeding her overnight. I noticed there were brief periods overnight where he would stop breathing! No wonder he was so fatigued during the day, the poor kid had such a poor quality of sleep.
If you have ever taken a meditation class, dabbled in yoga, or trained for an athletic challenge of any kind, you have likely been told that ‘proper breathing’ has incredible benefits. Proper breathing, by definition, is done through the nose.
There are a number of substantial reasons why nose-breathing is better for you than mouth-breathing. These benefits include:
- Increase in the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs
- Expelling more carbon dioxide
- Lowering heart rate
- Increasing lymphatic flow
- Reducing stress on the heart
- Producing nitric oxide – helps expand blood vessels and increases blood flow
- Filtering out impurities
Mouth breathing, on the other
hand, has some pretty nasty downsides. Long-term, chronic mouth breathing in
children can actually affect their facial growth, alter the alignment of their
teeth, and result in poor quality of sleep!
How snoring and mouth breathing affects sleep?
Facial deformities and TMJ aren’t really my area of expertise, but when it comes to sleep, I know my stuff. Would you like to learn a little about why snoring can ruin an otherwise wonderful, rejuvenating night?
As you probably already know, we all sleep in cycles. These cycles are made of different stages of sleep. Some stages are light, and others are deep. Our lightest stages of sleep occur at the beginning and the end of sleep cycles.
When we are in these lighter stages of sleep, we are very easily woken. We may realise we are hot/cold, hear a noise, or feel our partner rolling over during these lighter stages which may bring us out of sleep completely. Lucky for us adults we can roll over, pull the blankets up, and drift back to sleep fairly quickly and easily.
In adults, these cycles last around 90-110minutes. In babies, they’re closer to 45minutes. This means there is more opportunity for our little ones to wake up over the course of the night.
So, what causes baby to wake up in those light stages of sleep? More often than not, noise. This could be siblings playing, traffic, birds, someone in the shower. It can also (and quite often) be the sound of their own snoring!
If your little one is a mouth breather/snorer, they may also wake because their airway is obstructed to the point where they temporarily stop breathing. This is known as Obstructive Apnea which causes the body to startle itself out of sleep – and thank goodness it does!
Even if your little one is then able to independently get back to sleep again without your help, these brief wakings limit the amount of time their body is in deep restorative sleep.
Now, I could rehash all the things I’ve said before in my blog posts about the benefits of solid, consolidated and deep/restorative sleep, as well as the detriments of sleep deprivation, but I’ll leave it to the National Institutes of Health and their extensive study on the subject if you want a refresher.
We know our little ones need a LOT of sleep. It’s bad for them for a variety of reasons if they don’t get it. BUT we also need to think about the quality of sleep. The reason I knew there was something really wrong with my son’s quality of sleep was because he got the right amount of sleep yet he was still so fatigued and lethargic during the day.
If your child has great independent sleep skills and is going down for 11-12 hours over night, napping for a period relevant to their age but still seeming constantly tired, that is a good indication their sleep quality is poor.
Tune into your sleeping child regularly and start to track if they mouth breathe or snore. If you notice any of these signs take action.
What action should I take?
So that brings us to the question that every person who’s ever slept next to a snorer has asked themselves. “How on earth do I stop this person from snoring?”
The first thing you should do is grab your phone and make a recording of your little one breathing while they sleep. See if you notice a pause or a complete stop in their breathing at anytime overnight or while they are napping. Note down how long these pauses are and how often you notice them. Also note if your child is unwell with cold/flu symptoms at the time you notice the snoring.
Take this information to your GP/pediatrician. They may be interested in hearing the recording. Sometimes just telling your doctor that your little one is snoring is not a cause for concern. For example, if your little one has a blocked nose due to a runny nose, they may not be overly concerned as it will likely resolve once that nose clears up. However, if you have a history and recording of your child snoring when they are not unwell, that may result for the need in further testing.
You may then be referred onto an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Specialist. This specialist can assess your little one’s tonsils and/or adenoids simply by looking into their mouth. The ENT may recommend the tonsils and/or adenoids be surgically removed. Don’t panic as this process is not as intense as it sounds and is very common.
Make sure you ask all of your questions during your consultation with the ENT and educate yourself on the risks, benefits, alternative options, etc. Even though it is a common procedure, you need to know that you are making the correct decision for the health of your child.
You also need to be confident with the surgeon to avoid your own stress levels rising. Our children can pick up on our stress and anxiety levels. The last thing they need going into a procedure is additional stress so make sure you are onboard with the surgeon and the decision if this is recommended for you.
Are there alternatives to surgery?
For some little one’s the snoring isn’t severe enough to warrant surgery. You may still be referred onto an ENT who may then ask to review your child throughout their childhood.
There are some methods of teaching or encouraging older children to breathe through their mouth. You can discuss this further with your GP/paediatrician/ENT.
As parents, we’ve got plenty to worry about without throwing unnecessary concern into the mix. I said earlier I’m not fear mongering here BUT if your little one is snoring or mouth breathing, it can have some serious consequences, and you should monitor it closely.
A solution is available you just need to seek help from a GP/Paediatrician. A better night’s sleep is waiting for everyone on the other side of the solution.
Remember to always trust your parenting instinct. Reach out to a health professional for advice and support if you feel there is an issue. Seek second opinions if you feel your concerns are not taken seriously.