Overnight guests in our home have joked about my husband’s snoring. His sleep study results call him a “heroic snorer” meaning he can snore in any position, but his snoring has not been found to be connected to sleep apnea or breathing issues. When children snore, however, it is no laughing matter. A child may snore occasionally when he or she has a cold or is “stuffy,” but when a child snores regularly for more than just a week or two and is not ill, it may be a warning sign of sleep-disordered breathing which can lead to dental, behavioral, and health issues.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can constrict a child’s airway and make breathing difficult when lying down. The child often then sleeps with an open mouth which results in a narrow palate due to the lack of outward pressure from the tongue against the teeth (which can only occur when the mouth is closed) while the lip muscles still continue to pull the developing teeth and bone inward. Sometimes these children will suck their thumbs in an effort to hold the tongue out of the back of the throat which aids in breathing as it creates more airway space. However, the pressure of the thumb against the teeth causes protrusion of the teeth and results in an open bite where the front teeth do not touch.
Children with sleep-disordered breathing may exhibit signs of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or even ADHD (hyperactivity.) In deeper stages of sleep, things learned during the day are placed into memory and energy is restored. However, the body is also in its most relaxed phase, and with a sleep breathing issue where the airway opening must be maintained, the body will not allow deeper, more relaxed sleep. Only a light sleep is achieved by these children resulting in daytime tiredness. But as we all have experienced when we let our children stay up too late on the weekend, children do not always exhibit the typical signs of sleepiness that adults do. Rather than yawning or becoming sedentary, these children may instead be perceived as disobedient or hyperactive. They may also be forgetful, disorganized, have difficulty focusing, and struggle in school.
Bedwetting may occur in children with a sleep breathing disorder as the diaphragm works extra hard to try to help pull air into the lungs, and consequentially puts pressure against the bladder. The majority of growth hormone is release in the deep stage of sleep which means that these children who do not have efficient sleep may be shorter in stature, and their muscles may not develop as fully.
In my practice I ask about snoring in each and every patient we see. I become more concerned when I receive confirmation of regular snoring in a child. If you are concerned about your child’s continued snoring, contact a sleep center affiliated with one of the local East Cobb hospitals.