Why Does My Baby Grunt So Much
“Your baby’s first words can be exciting and thrilling — but they also make you wonder if he will ever start speaking at all! When your infant makes sounds like “”mama,”” “”dada”” or “”no,”” does that mean his brain has shut down? Actually, no. It means the sound is coming from somewhere else; perhaps another part of the body or even outside the body altogether. Babies and children often grunt, cry, squirm, laugh, snore, hum, whistle, sing, fart or burp while sleeping.
These noises occur naturally when we’re asleep or unconscious. They may wake us up, alert others, or have no effect on our consciousness whatsoever. But what do these sounds tell us about babies’ brains and development? What role do such noises play in their lives? And why do some infants seem more prone than others to making them? We’ll take a closer look at these questions next.
The Sounds of Sleeping Babies
Sleep Is Important for Everyone
Grunts During Sleep Are Normal
The Sounds of Sleeping Babies
When we’re awake, we don’t just hear sounds — we feel them, too. The same goes for asleep. Our bodies send signals to our brains regarding sounds made by other people, animals or objects around us (like cars). These sounds are sent through nerve fibers called auditory nerves to the brain. From here, messages travel along two pathways to different parts of the temporal lobe: one pathway carries information to the left ear and the right ear, the second path sends those sounds to the language center in the brain where they are interpreted into speech.
During sleep, however, sound waves aren’t able to reach the ears because the eardrums seal off the ear canal entrance. Instead, sensory receptors in the ear detect vibrations caused by air pressure changes inside the external ear canal. This allows the auditory system to pick up on changes in noise level and pitch without any conscious awareness.
Sound isn’t always loud enough to wake someone who’s sleeping. In fact, most adults need to strain their ears to hear a car engine idling nearby. However, if an infant hears something loud enough, even if it’s only a few feet away, he might begin crying. He could also become restless and want to investigate with cries of his own.
If your child starts waking up frequently at night, you should check his crib to see whether everything is secure and properly fitted. A loose rail or side board could cause him to roll out of bed. There may also be a problem with the mattress. If you’ve recently changed brands, try using the old ones again. You should also consider changing caregivers, especially if a family member or babysitter doesn’t know how to handle your child.
Sometimes, babies learn to use vocalizations to communicate before they can talk. Some researchers believe that learning how to speak comes later due to the nature of sound production — humans produce sound through vibration of the larynx and tongue and teeth, unlike animals that emit sounds via the nose, mouth, throat or lungs. Learning to speak takes time, patience and repetition. Children typically learn to say simple words between 18 months and 3 years of age.
Some babies are born deaf. Others lose their hearing early in life through illness, surgery, ototoxic medications or trauma. People who experience sudden hearing loss may not realize it immediately. Hearing problems may also arise from birth defects, infections, head injuries or meningitis.
As many as 1 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which are characterized by pauses in breathing or repeated muscle contractions that disrupt normal sleep patterns. Both conditions are associated with excessive daytime drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, headaches and memory impairment.
What Happens During Sleep That Could Cause Grunts?
While your child sleeps peacefully, his muscles relax so he can enter a state of deep restful sleep. Once the eyelids close, the eyes stop sending visual messages to the brain, leaving only auditory messages to go toward the ear. As soon as the brain receives this information, it interprets the sounds and tells the mind that the person is still dreaming — hence, the feeling of being awake [sources: University of Maryland Medical Center, WebMd].
Once the dreamer awakes, the brain then tries to figure out what was happening. Was it really necessary for the person to get up? Did he fall back asleep? Should he remember that he had dreamed about falling or jumping out of bed?
Babies are particularly sensitive to loud noises. Since they haven’t developed the ability to filter out unnecessary stimuli yet, anything within earshot may set off alarms. Because they are unable to differentiate between real and imagined threats, children may act instinctively upon a scary noise.
This is similar to what occurs when a young animal wakes up suddenly after having been frightened or startled. Young birds will fly away from predators, while small mammals may freeze when facing danger. Humans are no different. One study found that when participants were asked to identify sounds played through headphones or computers, their reaction times were longer when the sounds contained high frequency tones [sources: Cogstone et al., Science Daily].
However, scientists aren’t sure exactly why this happens. Although certain areas in the brain process sound, the exact reasons behind this phenomenon remain unclear. One theory suggests that when a sound is heard, the brain responds by activating neurons, which helps create a map of space. Then, once the brain determines its location, it begins interpreting the message received. Another explanation states that since the brain needs to register a stimulus, it must expend additional energy doing so.
It’s possible that infants find grunts soothing. They may perceive them as comforting and relaxing. Or maybe the constant noise alerts them to their surroundings. Either way, it seems that sometimes parents interpret their babies’ grunts as meaning that something is wrong. And since they cannot explain what happened, they assume the worst.
So, what’s going on with my baby’s grunting? Why do some babies grunt all the time, while others hardly do? Read on to find out.
Sleep Is Important for Everyone
Although babies grunt, yawn, snort, hiccup and burp, they generally don’t breathe deeply during sleep. Adults, on the other hand, inhale and exhale oxygen through their respiratory systems during sleep. Breathing normally helps maintain proper blood circulation, controls temperature and regulates heart rate. Without regular sleep, our bodies won’t function well.
Sleep deprivation has serious negative effects on health. Lack of sleep leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cancer. Studies show that sleep deprivation affects cognitive performance, short-term memory, decision-making skills and mood.
A lack of sleep also increases risk factors for accidents. For example, someone driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is four times more likely to crash compared to someone who gets plenty of shuteye. Drivers with less than seven hours of sleep per day tend to drive faster, pass slower vehicles and follow other drivers closely.
Because of these risks, experts recommend getting at least eight hours of sleep each night. However, some people require fewer hours of sleep than others. If you have trouble falling asleep, consult your doctor. He or she will refer you to a specialist trained in sleep medicine. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you stay awake or perform better.
Most adults need about six to nine hours of sleep each night, but some people need less. Infants need approximately 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours, but some older kids require more. Teenagers need 10 to 11 hours of sleep every night. Older adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Adequate sleep helps maintain good health and quality of life.
You probably know that grunts indicate pain or discomfort. But what about babies? Can they actually feel pain? The answer is yes. Babies’ senses are highly sensitive, and they respond strongly to touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. Pain is perceived differently based on age. For instance, newborns may grimace or stiffen their bodies, indicating distress. Toddlers may scream or cry out when touched. Teens may moan or groan. Older children may complain of headache, nausea or stomach aches. Pain management techniques vary according to age group. Younger children receive numbing agents, while adolescents may undergo psychological counseling.
Grunts During Sleep Are Normal
One reason some babies grunt so much is simply because they are developing their voices. While they usually grow out of this stage, some continue to grunt throughout adulthood.
Another reason babies grunt during sleep is because they are trying to wake themselves up. Like adults, they may grunt to remind themselves that they are still dreaming.
Other reasons include:
Ear infection – Ear infections can lead to fluid buildup and blockage of the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the back of the nasal cavity. To compensate for this, the infant may hold his breath and squint his eyes to keep the fluid out and maintain equilibrium.
Tongue-tied – An infant whose tongue is tied to the roof of his mouth may develop a habit of grinding”
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