Obstructed sleep apnea in children occurs when your child experiences brief pauses in their breathing pattern that last from a few seconds to minutes, resulting in your child feeling tired and sleepy the next day.
There are several types of apnea in children:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: This is the most common type of apnea and is usually caused by a blockage of the airway due to enlarged tonsils and adenoidal tissue near the nasal passages.
- Central sleep apnea: This happens when the part of the brain that controls breathing doesn’t start or maintain the breathing process properly. Common in very premature infants.
- Mixed sleep apnea: A combination of central and obstructive apnea, mixed apnea is usually a sign of an immature breathing pattern and may occur when a child is awake or asleep.
A sleep medicine expert can help get to the bottom of your child’s sleep issues with an overnight sleep test called polysomnography, which will measure your child’s quality, quantity and breathing patterns during sleep.
Depending on the results from your child’s sleep study, treatments for apnea may include:
- medications: to relieve nasal congestion and allergies
- increased activity and better nutrition: recommended for overweight children
- continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): a nasal and/or mouth mask that forces air to send oxygenated air into the air passages and lungs
- surgery: to remove large tonsils and adenoids that make it difficult to breath
From Nemours' KidsHealth
- Enlarged Adenoids
- Apnea of Prematurity
- Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching)
- Sleep and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old
- Sleep and Newborns
- Sleep and Your 4- to 7-Month-Old
- Sleep and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old
- Sleep and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- What Causes Night Terrors?
- Should I Be Worried About My Child's Nightmares?
- Night Terrors
- Sleep Problems in Teens
- Sleep and Your Preschooler
- All About Sleep
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Sleep and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old
Just when you think that getting more shut-eye is a far-off dream, your baby will begin to sleep longer stretches at night. Baby's sleep cycle is getting closer to yours, and he or she is able to hold more milk in the tummy.
But don't assume you'll be hitting the snooze button just yet. At this stage, "sleeping through the night" is considered to be a stretch of only 5 or 6 hours.
How Long Will My Baby Sleep?
Since babies this age are more awake, alert, and aware of their surroundings during daylight hours, they're more likely to be tired at night and sleep. But the range of normal is still very wide.
By 3 months of age, babies tend to sleep about 14 hours a day. Many will have settled into a daily sleep routine of two or three naps during the day, followed by "sleeping through the night" stretch after a late-night feeding.
Again, not all infants keep to the same timetable. If you have questions or concerns, check with your doctor.
How Should Babies Sleep?
Follow these safety precautions with your little one:
- Place your baby on his or her back to sleep, not on the stomach or side. The rate of SIDS has gone way down since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) introduced this recommendation in 1992. Sleeping on the stomach with little-to-no ability to change head positions can block babies' tiny airways and cause them to "rebreathe" their own carbon dioxide. In this position, babies also can get overheated (another risk factor for SIDS) and might have their mouths or noses blocked by bedding.
- Make sure your crib meets current safety standards. Use a firm crib mattress with a sheet that fits snugly.
- Do not put anything else in the crib or bassinet. Items that can touch a baby's face — such as plush toys, pillows, blankets, and bumper pads — also can block breathing.
- Watch out for other hazards. Avoid items with cords, ties, or ribbons that can wrap around a baby's neck, and objects with any kind of sharp edge or corner. Look around for things that your baby can touch from a seated or standing position in the crib. Hanging mobiles, wall hangings, pictures, draperies, and window blind cords could be harmful if they are within a baby's reach.
Although many cultures endorse bed-sharing, there is a risk that the baby can suffocate or strangle, and multiple studies show that there's a higher incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) in households where the baby slept in the parents' bed. This is especially true for babies of mothers who smoke. A safer option is to room-share and have a separate crib or bassinet in the room with you. You can enjoy many of the benefits of bed-sharing (making feeding easier, getting back to sleep faster, etc.) without the risks.
Helping Your Baby Sleep
If you haven't already, start a bedtime routine that will be familiar and relaxing for your baby. Bathing, reading, and singing can soothe babies and signal an end to the day. Be consistent and your baby will soon associate these steps with sleeping.
If you rock your baby to sleep before bedtime, your little one may expect to be rocked to sleep after nighttime awakenings. Instead, try putting your baby into a crib or bassinet while drowsy but still awake. This way your baby will learn to fall asleep on his or her own.
Although it may be hard at first, some experts suggest this is also the age to start letting your baby fuss for a few minutes when he or she wakes during the night. Your baby may simply be in a phase of light slumber, even though you think he or she is wide awake. Some babies squirm, whine, and even cry in their sleep before falling back to sleep on their own.
Unless you suspect that your baby is hungry or ill, try to see what happens if you leave your baby alone. It will help you all in the long run if your baby can develop the skill of going back to sleep without your help.
If your baby wakes during the period that you want him or her to sleep, keep activity to a minimum. Change or feed your baby in the dark, and don't play with the baby. Your little one will start to get the message that you're a bore during the night, so he or she might as well just go back to sleep. It can also help to keep your electronics and mobile devices off and to keep lighting low during night awakenings.
If your baby is waking early for a morning feeding, some small changes may allow a slight shift in schedule. You might try waking your baby for the late-night feeding at a time that suits your sleep schedule. For instance, if your baby sleeps after a 7 p.m. feeding and wakes up at 2 a.m. to eat, try waking the baby to feed at 11 p.m. and then put him or her down to sleep until an early-morning feeding at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. It may take a few nights to establish this routine, but being consistent will improve your chances of success.
When to Call the Doctor
If your baby's sleep habits concern you, speak with your doctor, who can reassure you or get to the root of a physical problem that may have no other symptoms besides crankiness or sleeplessness.
Either way, the doctor can help get you on the right track — the one that leads to more quality sleep for your baby and for you.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: November 2014