Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Snoring in toddlers: Signs, When to Worry & How to Reduce it?

Why do Children Snore? 

Children snore when there is added resistance in their upper airway during sleep.  It can be a symptom of sleep-disordered breathing. (Kuehi et al, 2008).  It is not uncommon for children to snore when they have a cold or allergies acting up.  Snoring can be benign or it could be a sign of something more serious such as sleep apnea. 

Signs of Snoring In Toddlers 

You can hear your little person snoring at night. Everyone snores now and then.  An occasional bout of snoring could be due to a viral infection or a cold.  The mucous causes more airway resistance and the sound is produced. Is the snoring loud?  If you can hear it from the doorway this would be considered loud.  If you have to lean over your child to hear it, it is not considered loud.   If you are hearing snoring every night this could be a sign of something more serious and you should bring this up to your pediatrician. 

Toddler Snoring Signs to Watch Out For

  • Very loud snoring that can be heard outside of the room
  • Pausing and gasping for air 
  • Either of these could be a sign of Sleep Apnea and require further investigation via a sleep study.  (Gipson et al, 2019.)

Mouth Breathing in Toddlers

Mouth breathing can lead to snoring.  Mouth breathing can be troublesome because your body has to work harder to breath through the mouth vs the nose, aka nasal breathing. When you sleep with your mouth open, you automatically breathe through your mouth.  Your body will wake you up more frequently in the night to try and tell you to breathe more efficiently using your nose.  People who breathe through their nose all night generally sleep better and feel more rested in the morning than people who breathe through their mouth.   Poor sleep has also been associated with behavioral issues during the day. (Beebe et al, 2012)

Benefits of Nasal Breathing:

  • The air is warmed and humidified
  • The air is cleansed due to the cilia, little hairs, in your nose that keep particles out
  • Breathing through your nose releases Nitrous Oxide which is a vasodilator and helps get more oxygen into your blood stream (Fitzpatrick et al, 2003)

Signs and Causes of Mouth Breathing

Signs of Mouth breathing include snoring, drooling or waking up with a dry mouth. 

Causes of Mouth Breathing can 

  • Lax masseter or chewing muscles on the side of the face
  • Tongue Thrust  
  • Often found in kids who have used pacifiers or sucked their thumb intensely 
  • In tongue thrust, the tongue rests low in the mouth and sticks out beyond the upper teeth - as seen in the image below 
  • The ideal tongue position is that the tip of the tongue rests just behind the upper teeth and the entire tongue lies along the top of the mouth

How to Reduce Snoring in Children

During an acute bout that is due to a cold or allergies, you want to reduce mucous accumulation.  An anti-histamine or a decongestant could be of help.  Always consult your doctor for medication advice. 

Long term you want to work on reducing mouth breathing and encouraging nasal breathing.  If your child is sleeping on their back, a small pillow under their head could help to slightly flex the neck and keep the mouth closed.  If your child has tongue thrust seen in the image below.

If your snoring is caused by mouth breathing you might investigate speech therapy or occupational therapy to help strengthen the muscles of the tongue or jaw.  First consult your pediatrician and then get a referral. 
Looking for more help with your toddler sleep? Check out my Toddler Sleep Terrorism Guide for toddlers 2 to 4 years of age.

In Summary, Occasional bouts of snoring are common.  If your toddler is snoring very loudly or every night for an extended period consult your pediatrician. 

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