Snoring and Other Sleep Disorders in Children

Snoring is the number one sign of there being a sleep problem in children and it has been estimated that at any one time, as many as one in ten of them may be suffering – leading to very disturbed nights.

A child may be snoring due to a number of possible causes which include oversized tonsils and/or adenoids, various anatomical issues such as a small jaw or airway diameter, and some allergies, or asthma, that cause swelling of the linings of the airway. Some children may even suffer from a problem called obstructive sleep apnea, usually referred to as OSA, which is a condition where their airways become very obstructed, causing the child to stop breathing often during the night – perhaps as much as a hundred times – and each time losing valuable sleep that they need.

Snoring and Sleep Disorders

If your child is snoring and observed to stop breathing during the night, it is important that you seek medical advice quickly, as OSA is a much more serious sleep disorder, whether it occurs in adults or in children, and it can cause a number of serious long term health problems.

Other commonly diagnosed sleep disorders in children include nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking. Symptoms of sleep disorders such as these in children have often led to misdiagnosis of some behavioural disorders such as ADHD. Therefore, all parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of possible sleep disorders in children that consistently snore – this being regarded as three to four times a week. There are many symptoms for parents to look for in their children.

They should also look out for a breathing pattern that pauses during sleep, waking up with a headache, difficulty in either falling asleep or staying asleep, having restless and/or disturbed sleep, difficulty getting up in the morning, falling asleep in the wrong place or at the wrong time, poor growth compared with peers, bed-wetting, consistent night terrors or nightmares, behavioural issues at home or school, and having difficulty in concentrating.

The main reason that causes childhood snoring is having large adenoids or tonsils, which partially block the windpipe during sleep. This blockage restricts the movement of air, and it has to be forced through the air passage, causing snoring. Some children have recurrent upper respiratory tract infections and they are more likely to snore, as are any children who have allergies that cause inflammation of the airways. This inhibits the flow of air in the windpipe and the result is snoring.

Numerous research projects have clearly shown that children who snore are more likely to have learning and behavioural or emotional problems but these were lessened, and even disappeared with improvements in the snoring problem.

The doctors stated that the sleep disruption, caused by snoring, was often the main factor leading to poor behaviour during the day, but that one should always be cautious as it could also be other factors that needed further investigation.

The biggest study carried out on this problem was done in the UK and tracked 13,000 children for a period of seven years so the results are extremely accurate. It was conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, and based on children in South-west England. It was published in Pediatrics Magazine and the results were clearly evident.

The team found that overall, children with sleep-disordered breathing, regardless of the age at which they had it, were more likely to develop symptoms of behavioural or emotional disorders, including anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), by the age of seven. Overall, the chance of children who snored experiencing those disorders was about 5.5 percent greater than the children who experienced no breathing problems. The worst-case group represented the biggest risk, with nearly 18 percent facing possible emotional disorders by age 7.

There were other possible factors but the researchers said that the strongest effect definitely came from sleep-disordered breathing – in a word – snoring. For example, among the “worst case” kids, sleep-disordered breathing was linked to an increase of 72 percent in the risk of behavioural and emotional symptoms at age seven, even considering all the other factors together.

If your child is displaying symptoms of a potential sleep problem, talk to your GP – and they may discuss that they are referred for a sleep study.

By John Redfern