Why you might need to be concerned about your child's snoring

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Is there anything more delightful than a sleeping child? And when they let forth the occasional little snuffly snore, it can be super adorable.

But while a lot of adults snore – some studies say up to half of us snore occasionally – it's not quite as common in children. 

Does that mean it's cause for concern? The answer is a definite maybe, according to a new study, published in Nature Communications.

Researchers found a link between frequent snoring and structural brain changes in children, as well as behavioural issues such as hyperactivity and inattention.

They studied the MRI results of over 10,000 nine- and 10-year-olds in the US, as well as data collected from those children's parents on how often they snore, and found that the children who snored regularly had thinner grey matter in some sections of their brains, including those parts that regulate reasoning and impulse control.

This link makes sense, according to nurse sleep specialist Deb Herdman, because snoring can affect sleep quality.

"We know from many studies that hyperactivity and inattention are common behaviours amongst children that have poor sleep," she says. 

"Lack of sleep at particular key developmental stages has been shown to affect brain development causing cognitive changes that impact learning, concentration and memory. In addition, children are often seen to display hyperactive and aggressive behaviours when sleep is inadequate."

Herdman says more research needs to be done, but in the meantime, we need to take snoring seriously. 

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"Irrespective of conclusive evidence, snoring occurs during sleep and any interruption to good sound sleep requires early intervention to ensure the best possible health and learning outcomes are achievable," she says.

So when should parents be concerned about their children's snoring? Herdman says if it's occurring three or more times a week it's a good idea to investigate why the snoring might be occurring.

"Initially, parents should assess their home environment to see if there are triggers that are causing their child to snore," she says.

"This can include cigarette smoke and environmental pollution. Some studies report increased snoring to occur in winter when home heating elements such as gas, wood stoves/fireplaces, space heaters, oil, burners and other heating devices emit nitrogen dioxide an odourless gas commonly emitted from heating elements which can irritate airways."

Other triggers that can increase snoring, according to Herdman, include recurrent respiratory tract problems such as asthma, allergies like hay fever, sinus and nasal passage inflammation, tonsillitis and common colds and flu that cause inflammation to airways.  

"Childhood obesity can also be a trigger for snoring when additional fatty tissue around the neck impedes breathing when laying down to sleep," she says. 

Herdman advises that, no matter what you think the cause might be, it's a good idea to seek medical advice for all regular snoring, for an assessment and diagnosis. 

She also says snoring in babies should be immediately investigated.

"Parents of young babies may hear them snore whilst asleep, and although this may seem to be an endearing behaviour, it is still narrowing of the airway," Herdman says. 

"Young babies have softer airway cartilage and placing them on soft mattresses or surfaces, pillows or in positions where they are not sleeping on a firm flat surface can place them at risk of reduced oxygen intake and potential life threatening complications. 

"Babies that are snoring should always have their sleeping position adjusted and safe sleep practices followed."