Q: My daughter’s pediatrician always asks us if my daughter snores when she sleeps. She doesn’t, but I’m wondering why she asks and what we should do if she does start snoring?
A: I’m glad your pediatrician is asking about this. Asking about sleep is an important part of my well child check visits, and sometimes snoring is a clue that sleep isn’t as good as we need it to be.
First, why care so much about sleep? Seems obvious to overtired parents! Sleep, beyond just allowing us to feel rested in the morning, is an active process critical to our brain and body. During sleep, important functions happen such as a consolidation of memories and learning, as well as a release of hormones that impact growth and mood. Tired kids may not seem sleepy, but rather can be irritable and impulsive. Any time I’m thinking about ADHD I’m also asking about sleep. Getting enough quality sleep is a critical piece of keeping us healthy —kids and adults alike.
Snoring may be a clue that your child is having breathing problems while they sleep. Most kids will snore at some point, especially if they are sick or have allergies. But if snoring is a habitual problem or seems to be impacting sleep, then we need to address it. Kids sometimes have obvious sleep breathing problems like gasping or long pauses in breathing, but other issues may be more subtle. Unless you are seeing it happen or sleeping together, it’s often hard to know if they’re having problems or not. A sleep study can help clarify this, where you and your child sleep in a center overnight with monitors to check breathing, sleep phases, oxygen levels and more.
If a child snores and has a positive sleep study or concerns with breathing, it’s worth a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor to discuss options. Many children have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which are patches of immune system tissue in our nose and throat that sometimes get too big and can block airflow. Tonsils we can see (those balls on the sides of your throat at the back), but adenoids are at the back of the nose and can’t be seen by looking in the mouth. Other children may have breathing problems due to obesity or genetic differences like Down syndrome.
If tonsils or adenoids are enlarged, options include watchful waiting to see if they get smaller on their own, addressing allergies, trying nasal steroid sprays, or surgically removing them. Removing tonsils hurts more than removing adenoids, and while there are risks of bleeding and dehydration, it’s usually a quick recovery after a short day surgery. Kids always impress me with how resilient they are. As always, if you have any concerns about breathing, snoring or your child’s sleep, make sure to bring it up with your pediatrician.
Dr. Doug Lincoln practices general pediatrics at Metropolitan Pediatrics in Happy Valley. He is board-certified in both pediatrics and preventive medicine, with special interests in helping parents meet their breastfeeding goals, caring for neurodiverse children with behavioral health needs, and advocating for children via teaching and policy. As a dad of two boys, he understands the joy and hard work that comes with parenting. Find out more about Dr. Doug and Metropolitan Pediatrics at metropediatrics.com.