It is rare, but sometimes I will talk with parents who’s child is struggling to sleep and they don’t know why... and neither do I. Generally, I am able to identify the sleeping issue pretty quickly on an initial evaluation phone call. But, from time to time, there will be a family where there are no obvious reasons why the child isn’t sleeping well. Lucky for these families, I went through an amazing training program and have been educated in SO MANY sleep issues and know what to look for and ask. So, my next question will be: Does your child snore or mouth breathe? In 9.5/10, the answer is yes.
If your child snores or mouth breathes, something isn’t quite right and you will need to do some investigating.
In many cases, snoring or mouth breathing is an indication of an airway blockage which can lead to sleep apnea and other issues.
Why is mouth breathing a problem?
Anyone who has ever taken a meditation class, dabbled in yoga, or trained for an athletic challenge of any kind will tell you that proper breathing has incredible benefits, and that proper breathing, by definition, is done through the nose.
There are a few reasons why nose-breathing is better for you than mouth-breathing, and they’re not minor benefits. Breathing through your nose increases the amount of oxygen we get to our lungs, expels more carbon dioxide, lowers our heart rate, increases lymphatic flow, and reduces stress on the heart. It also produces nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and increases blood flow, and all the hairs and mucous in the sinuses help to filter out impurities from the air.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, has some pretty nasty downsides.
Long-term, chronic mouth breathing in children can actually affect their facial growth, mess with their teeth, cause gum disease, throat infections, stunt growth, and be the root cause of the lack of quality sleep.
So, again, I’m not trying to make anyone paranoid by writing this, but out of all the conversations I’ve had with parents, I would have to say that mouth breathing is something to call attention to.
What about snoring?
Let’s also talk about snoring and how it can ruin an otherwise wonderful, rejuvenating night.
As you probably already know, we all sleep in cycles. We go from a very light sleep into deeper sleep, then deeper still, and then into the dreaming stage known commonly as REM sleep. During that first stage of light sleep, as well as in the REM stage, we’re very easily woken up.
The cat jumping on the bed, your partner rolling over, or involuntary muscle twitches can startle us out of our glorious snoozing session, and then we’re back to the starting line, trying to get back to sleep.
In adults, these cycles last around 90 - 110 minutes, but in babies, they’re closer to 45, so the opportunity for them to wake up occurs more frequently over the course of a night - I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone reading this.
And what causes baby to wake up in those light stages of sleep? More than anything else, noise. Barking dog, garbage truck, washing machine getting thrown off balance during the spin cycle, and quite often, the sound of their own snoring.
That’s not the only reason for waking up, mind you. If their airway is obstructed to the point where they temporarily stop breathing, what’s known as an obstructive apnea, the body tends to startle itself out of sleep (and I’m sure we’re all happy for that little fail-safe, even if it does lead to nighttime wake ups).
I could rehash all the things I’ve said before in my blog posts about the benefits of solid, consolidated 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.
Bottom line, your baby needs a lot of sleep, and it’s bad for them in a whole lot of ways if they don’t get it. Snoring in an otherwise healthy child (not congested with cold or like illness) is not typical and I recommend calling your pediatrician. Keep reading so you will be prepared for this conversation.
How to talk to your pediatrician about your child’s snoring/mouth breathing
The first thing you should do is grab your phone and make a recording of your little one breathing while they sleep.
The second step is to take that recording to your pediatrician and play it for them. Just going to the doctor and telling them your baby’s snoring might not spark a lot of concern on their part, but being able to demonstrate the severity of the issue can light a little fire under their butts. If they don’t automatically make the referral, prompt them to refer you to a pediatric respiratory specialist.
Removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids is often the next step if their airways are significantly blocked. Don’t panic though. The process isn’t nearly as intense as it might sound and is performed over half a million times a year in the US alone.
If your little one’s snoring isn’t severe enough to warrant surgery, however, you might benefit from some nasal strips, which you’ve probably seen advertised. They’re just thin strips of metal in a cotton sheath with adhesive on the back that stick to the outside of the nose and gently pull open the nasal passageways. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does solve the problem temporarily.
My baby has a cold and is snoring - should be worry?
Like I said above, these are the action steps to be taken if your child is not sick. If your baby is sick or congested, don’t jump to the conclusion that their snoring is permanent. A little nasal congestion due to illness can cause baby to snore, but it should clear up when they get better. Try using a nasal bulb or a Nose Frieda to suck the ickiness out of their nose and then a saline solution to clear up the passageways.
I know that, as parents, we’ve got plenty to worry about without throwing unnecessary concern into the mix, but if your baby’s snoring it can have some serious consequences, and you should take it seriously. It’s preventable and a better night’s sleep is waiting on the other side of the solution for your baby as well as the rest of your family!