Sleep apnea is not only an adult disease. It also affects 1 to 4 percent of children. Sleep apnea is actually among the most common reasons children need their tonsils or adenoids removed. There is a chance children will “grow out of” sleep apnea, but untreated sleep apnea in children can have prolonged consequences.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by something blocking the airway, such as tonsils. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t tell the body’s muscles to breathe. Both are equally as dangerous, and can cause serious problems for children.


Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Children


If your child has symptoms of sleep apnea (listed below), you should contact a pediatrician. Preferably a pediatrician who specializes in sleep disorders.


Nighttime symptoms include:

  • loud snoring
  • gasps and pauses in breathing
  • restless sleep
  • sleeping in unusual positions
  • sweating or bed-wetting.


While sleep disturbances are very telling of sleep apnea in children, there other symptoms may also indicate sleep apnea:

  • behavioral or social problems
  • being difficult to wake up in the morning
  • suffering from headaches
  • being irritable, cranky, or even aggressive
  • hyperactivity
  • falling asleep during the day
  • speaking with a nasally voice or regularly breathing through their mouth.


Case Studies


Here are two case studies featured by the National Sleep Foundation. Both children suffered from obstructive sleep apnea, but their symptoms presented differently.


Caleb was two when his parents first noticed loud snoring. They became alarmed when Caleb started gasping for air between snores. After a sleep study, doctors determined that removing Caleb’s tonsils would solve the problem


Matthew was a 9-year-old with significant weight issues. His parents tried to exercise with him, but Matthew became exhausted quickly by activities that required very little effort, like putting shoes on. Matthew told his doctor that he could never get enough sleep, and his mom reported that Matthew snored very loudly. After a sleep study, Matthew was given a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Matthew lost 25 pounds and turned into a much more active child.


Next Steps


As a parent, you should occasionally monitor your child’s sleep for a short period of time to observe their sleeping habits. This is especially important if you’ve noticed other symptoms associated with sleep apnea. Your insights will help the doctor make the most accurate diagnostic decision.


Sleep apnea may be associated with delayed growth or cardiovascular problems, so early diagnosis is key. One conversation with your child’s doctor could significantly improve their overall health and wellbeing.