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
- 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
- All About Sleep
- Apnea of Prematurity
- Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching)
- Enlarged Adenoids
- Sleep Problems in Teens
- Night Terrors
- What Causes Night Terrors?
- Should I Be Worried About My Child's Nightmares?
- Sleep and Your Preschooler
Trusted External Resources
Should I Be Worried About My Child's Nightmares?
My daughter has nightmares that sometimes wake her up. Should I be worried?
Nightmares are pretty common in childhood, especially in kids younger than 10. Aside from making for a restless night's sleep for everyone involved, the occasional nightmare is generally not a cause for concern.
There's no proven way to prevent the occasional nightmare, but you might try having your daughter avoid scary books, movies, and video games before sleep. Having a happy, peaceful bedtime routine also can help. Using a nightlight, sleeping with the bedroom door open, and having a security item (like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal) can help kids feel safer. Some kids even like to keep a flashlight next to their bed.
Recurring nightmares may signal fear or anxiety worth exploring through discussions with your child or with the help of your doctor or a behavioral health professional. If you're concerned about the nightmares, your child has them often, or she seems afraid during the day, talk to her doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013