Snoring in Toddlers or Young Children

Sleeping male toddler with arms up on pillow
Cornelia Schauermann / Getty Images

Ever heard your little one snore? It's a bit comical to listen to a loud harsh noise come out of a toddler's little mouth. Sometimes it may be a little sad, too, if the snoring is due to a cold or severe congestion. But, you may not realize that that silly or slightly strained sound could actually be a sign of a serious health issue or a danger that might affect your young child's development.

Snoring and Cognitive Development

Researchers and pediatricians are increasingly calling for more attention to be paid to snoring in children. In fact, scientists have found that older children who snore may be at greater risk for cognitive, behavioral, and psychosocial disorders.

A study published in 2017 found that frequency of snoring, rather than sleep apnea, was associated with cognitive and behavioral problems in young kids.

A 2012 study of young children and persistent snoring found that children who snored loudly and regularly had more problem behaviors and were more likely to suffer from hyperactivity, depression, and attention issues. The study tracked 2- to 3-year-olds to compare those who snore occasionally or not at all with those who snore loudly and consistently for months or years.

A separate study published that same year showed that young children who had sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing, which might be indicated by snoring, were 20 percent to 60 percent more likely to have behavioral problems by age 4. They were 40 percent to 100 percent more likely to have those issues by age 7. The worse their condition, the worse the problems.

The reason for these differences, some experts say, is that snoring children may have periods of hypoxia; during those episodes, they are deprived of oxygen, which leads to changes in brain function and behavior. So sleep-disordered breathing during your child's early development may have long-lasting effects.

What You Can Do

First, keep in mind what you should not do—panic. If you notice your child is snoring in her sleep, though, you do want to pay attention. Try to identify what type of snoring your child is doing. Is it a temporary breathing issue brought on by congestion? Is it very loud and noticeable or just a slight rasp of breath? Does it happen night after night (and during naps)? Almost all children snore at some point in their lives, but in most instances, it's temporary and harmless. About 10 percent of children snore every night.

If you think your child falls into that 10 percent category, talk to your pediatrician about having your child evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). This usually involves having a pediatric ENT check to see if the tonsils and adenoids are enlarged. If they are, your doctor may want to do a sleep study (a polysomnogram) to confirm the diagnosis. When needed, your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy which remove the tonsils and adenoids. In some instances, children need to be treated with a mask-like device that provides steady air pressure through the nose and relieves the problems that cause snoring.

Certain factors put toddlers at a greater risk for sleep apnea and snoring. African-American children and boys are more likely to develop the problem. Also at higher risk are children with Down syndrome or medical conditions that result in an irregular skull or facial development.

In addition, there are environmental and lifestyle conditions that you can control to lower your child's chances of becoming a persistent snorer:

  • Avoid exposing your child to tobacco smoke and environmental toxins.
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight excess weight is more often an issue for older children and adults, but it could be a factor in toddlers snoring as well.
  • Consider extended breastfeeding, since children who were breastfed longer seemed to have lower incidents of snoring (possibly because their upper airway developed differently and offered some protection).

The bottom line is that sleep is especially important to a child's healthy development. Snoring disrupts a child's sleep, which then disrupts his natural brain development and overall well-being. Identifying a problem with sleep-disordered breathing as early as possible will help your child avoid cognitive and behavioral problems down the road and allow everyone in the family to get a more restful night's sleep now.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. National Sleep Foundation. Snoring in Children.

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  5. Goldstein NA, Abramowitz T, Weedon J, Koliskor B, Turner S, Taioli E. Racial/ethnic differences in the prevalence of snoring and sleep disordered breathing in young childrenJ Clin Sleep Med. 2011;7(2):163–171.

  6. Maris M, Verhulst S, Wojciechowski M, Van de Heyning P, Boudewyns A. Prevalence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children with Down SyndromeSleep. 2016;39(3):699–704. doi:10.5665/sleep.5554

  7. Brew BK, Marks GB, Almqvist C, Cistulli PA, Webb K, Marshall NS. Breastfeeding and snoring: a birth cohort study. PLoS One. 2014;9(1):e84956. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084956

By Maureen Ryan
Maureen Ryan is a freelance writer, editor, and teaching consultant specializing in health, parenting, and education.