Sleep Apnea in Children

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Sleep Apnea

Helping Kids Breathe & Sleep Easier

Young girl sleeping — trouble sleeping is one symptom of Sleep Apnea.

Sleep apnea in children happens when kids stop breathing during periods of sleep. Sleep apnea in kids can affect their daily mood and behavior. It can also have a long-term impact on their cognitive functioning (the way they think). Sleep apnea in kids has also been linked to learning disabilities, hyperactivity and metabolic (growth and hormone) problems. At Nemours, our team of sleep medicine specialists, pediatric pulmonologists (lung doctors) and registered sleep technologists have advanced training in treating sleep apnea in children.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms & Conditions We Treat

Sleep apnea symptoms in kids can include:

  • sleeping with their mouth open and/or neck extended
  • loud snoring or breathing
  • bedwetting (enuresis)
  • restlessness during sleep
  • headaches and dry mouth when they wake up
  • extreme daytime sleepiness

At Nemours, we see children with the three types of sleep apnea:

  • central sleep apnea (when the part of the brain that controls breathing doesn’t start or maintain the breathing process properly — common in very premature babies)
  • obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type of apnea, usually caused when the airway is blocked because of enlarged tonsils and adenoid tissue near the nasal passages)
  • mixed sleep apnea (a combination of central and obstructive apnea that may happen when a child is awake or asleep)

Diagnosing & Treating Sleep Apnea in Children

If your child is having sleep apnea symptoms, our team of sleep medicine experts will take a complete medical history and perform a complete physical examination. Your child’s care team might also order an X-ray of the upper airway, or a number of at-home diagnostic tests using portable devices that record data while your child sleeps and/or when they’re awake. These may include:

  • actigraphy (monitors movement)
  • maintenance of wakefulness test, or MWT (measures brain and body activity)
  • multiple sleep latency test, or MSLT (measures daytime sleepiness)
  • oximetry (monitors blood oxygen and heart rate)

If we need more information, your child may need to have an overnight sleep study (called a “polysomnography”). During this test, our pediatric sleep medicine experts will monitor your child’s sleep over the course of an entire night. Depending on the results from the sleep study, treatments for sleep apnea in kids may include:

  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) (a sleep apnea machine that sends oxygenated air into the air passages and lungs through a mask)
  • medications (to help with allergies and nasal congestion)
  • more activity and better nutrition (recommended for children with sleep apnea who are overweight)
  • surgery (to remove large tonsils and adenoids that make it hard for kids to breathe)

Why Choose Us

At Nemours, our care and our doctors have been recognized for being among the best in the country. Our experts in sleep apnea in children may include pulmonologists (lung doctors), neurologists (brain and nervous system doctors), respiratory therapists (health care professionals who provide breathing therapy) and registered sleep technologists (who conduct sleep studies). Depending on which location you visit and your child’s specific needs, we may also work with doctors from other specialties such as:

When needed, one of our state-of-the-art on-site outpatient sleep centers can help us figure out what’s going on and address ways to help your child start sleeping and feeling better again.

Regional Sleep Apnea Highlights

Services, programs, facilities and care teams differ at each location. Call for details.

We offer care for sleep apnea in children at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware (Wilmington, Del.).

  • pediatric sleep medicine program accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
  • Complex Sleep Disordered Breathing Clinic (CSDBC) — the first of its kind in the Delaware Valley — where pulmonology and otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) specialists see your child the same day, in the same place
  • state-of-the-art and fully equipped five-bed sleep lab to perform sleep studies
  • psychologist/behavioral sleep specialist helping kids with trouble falling and/or staying asleep

We offer care for sleep apnea in children at Nemours Children’s Hospital (Orlando).

  • pediatric sleep medicine program that includes the expertise of doctors from multiple specialties
  • state-of-the-art and fully equipped eight-bed sleep lab to perform sleep studies

We offer care for sleep apnea in children at Nemours Children's Health, Jacksonville (working with Wolfson Children’s Hospital), as well as select satellite Nemours Children's Specialty Care locations. 

  • team of board-certified pediatric neurologists led by a sleep medicine neurologist in our state-of-the-art Sleep Center , accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, at Wolfson's Children's Hospital
  • specialty sleep clinics focusing on narcolepsy, epilepsy, complex airways and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. In CPAP therapy, a person wears a mask that covers the nose and mouth during sleep. The mask is connected to a sleep apnea machine that continuously pumps air into it to open the airways.

We offer care for sleep apnea in children at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Pensacola.

  • multiple pulmonologists selected as some of the Best Doctors in America®
  • pediatric sleep medicine program that includes the expertise of doctors from multiple specialties
  • state-of-the-art and fully equipped four-bed sleep lab to perform sleep studies

Patient Stories

Zion, a sleep apnea patient at Nemours

Sometimes the best support and peace of mind comes from families who’ve been there. Meet some of the inspiring kids we’ve been honored to treat.

See Patient Stories »

Research & Clinical Trials

At Nemours, we’re actively researching new approaches for childhood disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

KidsHealth Library

Learn more about your child’s medical condition from the experts at Nemours’ KidsHealth.