I used to think that snoring babies were absolutely adorable.
After all, what better indicator is there that your baby is fast asleep and getting the rest they need than the sound of them purring away in their crib? As a mother, the sight of your baby sleeping means they’re relaxed, feeling safe, and content with everything around them. I always get that “I’m a good mom” feeling when I look at my babies sleeping peacefully, and a little snore seemed harmless and cute.
Unfortunately, that sense of peace and serenity I used to get at the sound of a snoring baby turned out to be misconstrued. Now that I’m more educated about sleep, I know that snoring and mouth breathing can definitely be cause for concern.
That might sound inflammatory, but I assure you, I’m really not trying to scare anyone here. Now, anyone who has ever taken a meditation class, dabbled in yoga, or trained for an athletic challenge of any kind will tell you that proper breathing has incredible benefits, and that proper breathing, by definition, is done through the nose.
There are a few reasons why nose-breathing is better for you than mouth-breathing, and they’re not minor benefits. Breathing through your nose increases the amount of oxygen we get to our lungs, expels more carbon dioxide, lowers our heart rate, increases lymphatic flow, and reduces stress on the heart. It also produces nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and increases blood flow, and all the hairs and mucus in the sinuses help to filter out impurities from the air.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, has some pretty nasty downsides. Again, this is for real. I’m making up exactly none of this, despite the fact that it sounds a bad Facebook post your conspiracy theory-loving uncle might share.
Long-term, chronic mouth breathing in children can actually affect their facial growth, mess with their teeth, cause gum disease, throat infections, stunted growth, and a little closer to my heart, lack of quality sleep.
So, again, I’m not trying to make anyone paranoid by writing this, but out of all the conversations I’ve had with parents, I would have to say that mouth breathing ranks somewhere below “abducted by aliens” on the list of parental concerns, so I wanted to call some attention to it.
Facial deformities and TMJ disorder are not my area of expertise, I am not a doctor even though my toddler keeps putting that Fisher Price stethoscope around my neck, but when it comes to sleep, I know my stuff! So, allow me to expand a little on why snoring can ruin an otherwise wonderful, rejuvenating night.
As you probably already know, we all sleep in cycles. We go from a very light sleep into deeper sleep, then deeper still, and then into the dreaming stage known commonly as REM sleep. During that first stage of light sleep, as well as in the REM stage, we’re very easily woken up. The cat jumping on the bed, your partner rolling over, or involuntary muscle twitches can startle us out of our glorious snoozing session, and then we’re back to the starting line, trying to get back to sleep.
In adults, these cycles last around 90 - 110 minutes, but in babies, they’re closer to 45, so the opportunity for them to wake up occurs more frequently over the course of a night. (Which, I’m sure, isn’t news to anyone reading this. Every parent knows all too well how often babies tend to wake up. Most delivery drivers probably know it as well, given how many mothers they’ve seen give them the death stare in their eyes after ringing the doorbell at the wrong time.)
And what causes baby to wake up in those light stages of sleep? More than anything else, noise. Barking dog, garbage truck, washing machine getting thrown off balance during the spin cycle, and quite often, the sound of their own snoring.
That’s not the only reason for waking up, mind you. If their airway is obstructed to the point where they temporarily stop breathing, what’s known as an obstructive apnea, the body tends to startle itself out of sleep. (And I’m sure we’re all happy for that little fail-safe, even if it does lead to nighttime wake ups.)