When I see a child with sleep problems, the first question I ask is; does your child snore? Many parents are surprised, not knowing the link between snoring and night-waking.
Let me explain. Snoring in small children is most commonly caused by swollen tonsils and adenoids. During the child's deep sleep when they are most rested...
...the soft tissue in the throat relaxes and the swollen tonsils and adenoids can obstruct the airway. The sleeping child may temporarily stop breathing (apnoea) and startle awake, sometimes with a shriek or cry. It can be quite confusing as they have been roused from a deep sleep state and can be irritable, disorientated and difficult to calm. Some parents confuse this with the dream state called a night-terror or night mare.
There are other children who's swollen airways causes them to have more laboured breathing - it may be noisy, heavy, mouth-breathing - causing them to sleep in a restless way, but not fully waking up. This child often rises in the morning grumpy and unrefreshed as they have not experienced enough uninterrupted deep sleep - the type of sleep that rests the brain and refreshes their system. As the ear, nose and throat are all connected, tonsil and adenoid infections are often associated with middle ear infections - which is the other common cause for night-waking.
I find it heart-breaking to discover children who have endured weeks of crying because of inappropriate sleep management strategies, when the whole time they were suffering a chronic infection that causes them to wake through the night. Parents are not alone in misunderstanding their child's night waking. I have discovered that there are plenty of health professionals that assume that the cause is behavioural and they too forget to ask the vital question - do they snore?
Here is a 5 minute audio broadcast by radio national, where a researcher discusses the link between childhood snoring and its link to health, behaviour and school performance problems.
Do contact me if you are unsure about your child's sleep patterns and would like some support.