Understanding Sleep Apnea in Children

A Comprehensive Guide for Children and Sleep Apnea

In recent years, the prevalence of sleep apnea among children has been on the rise. While it may not be considered very common overall, parents must be aware of its potential impact on their child's health and well-being. In this blog post, we'll delve into what sleep apnea is, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and when to seek medical attention.

"An estimated 2 to 3% of children are thought to experience sleep apnea, a figure that can climb as high as 10 to 20% among children who frequently snore. As a parent, knowing the signs and treatment options is essential," says Robert Miller, Apria's Vice President of Sleep Business.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea in children can manifest in two primary forms: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. OSA occurs when a child's airway becomes blocked during sleep, hindering their ability to breathe properly. On the other hand, central sleep apnea arises from a disruption in the brain's signaling to breathe effectively. Just like adults, OSA is much more common in children than central sleep apnea.

Identifying Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children

While children may exhibit similar symptoms to adults, there are specific signs that parents should be attuned to, including:

  • Snoring (which is uncommon in children)
  • Snorts or gasps between breaths
  • Restless sleep
  • Bedwetting
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Attention and behavioral problems
  • Sleep talking
  • Irritability
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty controlling emotions

Understanding the Causes of Sleep Apnea

Several factors can contribute to the development of sleep apnea in children, including:

  • Obesity
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Underlying medical conditions (e.g., Down syndrome or cerebral palsy)
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Structural issues such as a small jaw or overbite

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Unlike in adults, at-home sleep studies are generally not used for diagnosing sleep apnea in children. Instead, healthcare providers may recommend a polysomnogram (overnight sleep study) or oximetry to assess breathing patterns and oxygen levels during sleep.

Treatment options for pediatric sleep apnea may include:

  • Surgical removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids (adenotonsillectomy)
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy
  • Myofunctional therapy (mouth and throat exercises to strengthen muscles and breathing)
  • Orthodontic devices to improve airflow

When to Seek Medical Attention

Parents should consult a healthcare provider if they notice abnormal sleeping patterns or behavioral concerns in their child. Since sleeping disorders often manifest through behavioral issues, it's essential to address any changes in your child's sleep habits promptly.

Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment options for sleep apnea in children is crucial for parents to ensure their child's overall health and well-being. By being proactive and seeking medical guidance when necessary, parents can help their children get the support they need for restful and rejuvenating sleep.


Gouthro, Kathryn, and Jennifer Slowik. “Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 1, 2023.
Gustave, Jodi E., ed. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea (for Parents) | Nemours Kidshealth.” KidsHealth, November 2021. 
Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” Mayo Clinic, July 29, 2023. 
Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” Yale Medicine, October 28, 2022. 

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Robert Miller

Robert has worked in the sleep and home respiratory healthcare space for over 29 years and is a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist. Robert has been married for 33 years to his wife, Laurie, has 6 children and 5 grandchildren. Robert leads sleep initiatives and strategies that improve the patient experience and promote better health outcomes so that our patients can achieve their best night's sleep—every night.

About the AuthorRobert Miller