We have updated our Online Services Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. See our Cookies Notice for information concerning our use of cookies and similar technologies. By using this website or clicking “I ACCEPT”, you consent to our Online Services Terms of Use.

Why Young Children Snore -- and When To Worry

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
little boy sleeping on his side with mouth open

You may be surprised if you hear the sound of snoring from your child’s bedroom. Yet it is not uncommon – about 10 percent of children snore regularly. In many cases, childhood snoring is no cause for concern. But snoring can sometimes be the sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that can cause medical problems if not treated.

Why Little Ones Snore

Snoring occurs when air cannot move freely through the back of the mouth and nose. This can cause the tongue, soft palate and uvula to vibrate, resulting in snoring. Causes of snoring can include:

  • Large tonsils or adenoids. These enlarged lymph nodes are common in children and can be a risk factor for sleep apnea.
  • A stuffy nose from allergies or a cold.
  • Being overweight. This can cause excess tissue in the neck that relaxes during sleep.
  • Having a long uvula or soft palate. These structures can vibrate during relaxed breathing.
  • Having a small jaw or narrow structures that make it harder for air to move in the upper part of the air passage.

Signs of Sleep Apnea

“About 1 to 3 percent of children who snore have sleep apnea,” says Sally Ibrahim, MD, Medical Director of the Pediatric Sleep Center at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “This is a condition that causes pauses or reductions in breathing, lowers oxygen levels and disrupts sleep quality. Sleep apnea in children can affect attention, behavior, learning and quality of life. Over time, untreated severe forms of sleep apnea can lead to higher blood pressure, growth problems, inflammation and heart remodeling.”

Here are some signs that your child’s snoring may be sleep apnea:

  • Snoring that happens every night, or heavy noisy breathing
  • Mouth breathing during sleep
  • Your child makes choking or gasping sounds. These sounds may be worse when your child is sleeping on his or her back.
  • You hear pauses in your child’s breathing, and a “snort” sound when the breathing starts again.
  • Your child wakes often.
  • Your child tosses or thrashes during sleep, or sleeps in an unusual position.

Sleep apnea can also cause problems you might notice during the day. These include:

  • Unusual fatigue or tiredness, such as falling asleep at school
  • Problems paying attention or poor school performance
  • Headaches
  • Behavior problems or hyperactivity
  • Moodiness, crankiness or irritability

When To See a Doctor

If your child snores and has any signs of sleep apnea, talk with your child’s doctor. If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, the doctor will talk with you about possible treatments.

“Treating sleep apnea will not only help your child sleep more soundly, but also help improve his or her overall health and quality of life,” Dr. Ibrahim says. “A good night’s sleep may even improve your child’s concentration, energy levels and school performance.”

Related Links

The sleep medicine team at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s treats a wide range of childhood sleep disorders, from the common to the complex. With expert diagnosis and treatment, we offer proven, evidence-based methods to help children achieve quality sleep. Learn more  about sleep services at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.