There is almost nothing more adorable than a conked-out baby, arms splayed around their head, gently snuffling away in slumber, right? The term, “sleep like a baby,” captures the peaceful, relaxed nature of babies sleeping, and it’s the type of sleep that a lot of adults aspire to achieve. However, those cute baby snores–and mouth breathing–can be signs that something else is afoot; something that can be preventing your little one from getting the healthy, restorative sleep they need.
Apart from giving our face a distinct look, our nose serves an important purpose in our breathing. First and foremost, the nose acts as a filter, with our nose hair–or cilia–retaining irritating particulates from the air we breathe, such as pollen and other microscopic foreign bodies. The nose also helps warm air before it enters the lungs, as well as humidifying the air we breathe with help from the mucus that lines our nasal passages.
Without going into great scientific detail, nose breathing is more beneficial because our lungs are able to extract more oxygen from breaths inhaled and exhaled through the nose, than that of the mouth. Because the nose is a narrower passage than the mouth and throat, the air is taken in and released at a slower rate, allowing the lungs to extract more oxygen than quick inhales and exhales through the mouth.
So, because nose breathing filters, warms, humidifies and regulates the air coming into our bodies, it is more beneficial for us to take in oxygen in this manner. So, what happens if you’re not breathing through your nose?
If you’re not aware that you’re breathing through your mouth regularly, think about the last time you had a head cold and your nasal passages were completely congested. Those who normally breathe through their nasal passages will immediately experience the downsides of mouth breathing (dry mouth, bad breath).
Where the nose filters and humidifies air, breathing directly through the mouth can dehydrate you, cause dry mouth and make you susceptible to infection. You may be unaware of your own mouth breathing at nighttime, but if you wake up hoarse, with a sore throat or with dry mouth, you’re likely snoring at night and feeling fatigued, despite getting your eight hours.
If your little one snores, you should contact your pediatrician to discover–and remedy–the cause. According to Healthline, mouth breathing is caused by some type of nasal obstruction, which can include any of the following:
- nasal congestion caused by cold or allergies
- deviated septum
- enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- nasal polyps
- size and shape of the nose or jaw
- enlarged turbinates
- obstructive sleep apnea
Effects of mouth breathing
In addition to potentially causing chronic sleep issues in children, mouth breathing can have long term effects on growth and development, if not caught and corrected. Healthline shares that children whose mouth breathing goes untreated can develop abnormal physical traits (elongated face, poor posture, overbite) and suffer cognitive difficulties.
In addition to physical changes, children who mouth breathe often suffer from poor sleep. The effects of inadequate sleep in children are far-reaching and can affect their physical development, academic performance, and lead to chronic sleep issues.
The breathing and sleep connection
So, what does breathing have to do with sleep? A LOT! If you have a little one who seems to have difficulty with sleep or doesn’t seem well-rested, their breathing may be the culprit.
Healthline shares the effects of mouth breathing in children, which includes irritability, slower growth rate, problems with concentration, increased crying episodes and feeling fatigued throughout the day. In short, mouth breathing can cause your child to be deprived of the healthy, restful and restorative sleep they require to grow and develop.
So, that snoring and snuffling that seemed so cute should really be attended to. Of course, if your little one is snoring because of a cold, you shouldn’t raise the alarm as they’ll likely be back to breathing normally once their congestion clears.