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
- Apnea of Prematurity
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Enlarged Adenoids
- Sleep and Newborns
- Sleep and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old
- What Causes Night Terrors?
- Should I Be Worried About My Child's Nightmares?
- Sleep and Your Preschooler
- Sleep and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old
- Sleep and Your 4- to 7-Month-Old
- Sleep and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old
- Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching)
- Sleep Problems in Teens
- All About Sleep
- Night Terrors
Trusted External Resources
What Causes Night Terrors?
My grandsons, who are 3 and 4 years old, have been having night terrors since they were each 18 months old. What causes these episodes?
Night terrors are somewhat mysterious. It might seem as though they're the same as a bad dream, but they aren't. Night terrors usually happen in the first 2 or 3 hours of sleep, whereas bad dreams often happen in the early morning hours.
During a night terror, kids don't actually wake up and don't respond to efforts to comfort or reassure them. When kids have bad dreams, they usually wake up feeling scared or upset, and are happy to be comforted by their parents. Night terrors are generally not remembered in the morning, while bad dreams are often at least partially recalled.
The good news is that night terrors don't seem to have any harmful effects on kids who have them, and they usually outgrow them. Experts believe that night terrors might be caused by the over-arousal of a child's immature central nervous system during sleep. Some kids may inherit a tendency for this over-arousal — about 80% who have night terrors have a family member who also had them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance). Sometimes night terrors are more common in kids who are going through stressful life events, on certain medications, not getting enough sleep, or having too much caffeine.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: August 11, 2016