A child with Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) struggles to inhale enough air while he’s asleep. It gets worse when the child lies on his back (because gravity causes the throat to narrow even more), and a child with SDB may often arch his neck and open his mouth in an attempt to get as much air in as possible, causing loud snoring. SDB can start as early as 2 years of age—when the tonsils and adenoids are growing fast—and go all the way through the teen years and adulthood. About 7 to 12 percent of young children have primary snoring (more than three times a week) caused by mild air blockage. But 1 to 3% of children develop severe blockage (90-100 percent) and experience apnea. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea & Kids Who Choke in Sleep and Snore 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, is sleep disordered breathing that gets so bad the throat closes completely and the child goes more than 10 seconds with absolutely no breathing. This can seem quite scary, but don’t panic! If your child’s breathing stops for too long, he’ll wake up and start breathing again. Kids with SDB wake up when the blockage gets bad enough. They may startle awake by choking in sleep, or with a snort or gasp dozens or hundreds of times each night! No wonder kids like Timmy yawn all day and get irritable, defiant, “hyper,” forgetful, and accident-prone. SDB also weakens the immune system, undermines learning, and can lead to high blood pressure and heart strain. Do you think your child might have SDB? Check with your doctor if you notice your child:

  • Breathes loudly and snores 
  • Sleeps with his mouth open
  • Chokes in sleep and wakes with a loud snort 
  • Has a nasal, gravelly voice
  • Drools on the pillow case
  • Breathes through his mouth instead of his nose
  • Has morning headaches
  • Resists swallowing food because it “scratches” on the way down
  • Has dark circles under his eyes
  • Is excessively sleepy
  • Has behavior issues

Obesity, SDB, & Kids Who Snore and Choke While Sleeping

Many kids with SDB are rail thin because they just have no appetite. However, many other kids with this problem are overweight. It is obvious that obese children have layers of fat right under their skin. But what we can’t see is that they also have thin ripples of fat deposited under the wet membranes at the back of the nose and throat. This fat can create a blockage, and causes a child or baby to choke in sleep or snoring loud when lying on the back. This obstruction—on top of the blockage from big tonsils and adenoids—keeps kids from getting restful sleep. And that’s a big problem because poor sleep can lead to even more weight gain as kids with SDB:

  • Get less exercise (because they’re tired)
  • Eat more (because fatigue makes them crave fats and sugar and lowers their impulse control…and they’re watching more TV and being tempted by all the junk food commercials)
  • Develop insulin resistance, causing increased obesity and raising the risk of diabetes

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.