Pediatric sleep apnea: Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Kids

Pediatric sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your child’s breathing is selectively or completely blocked repeatedly during sleep. The condition is caused by narrowing or blockage of the upper airway during sleep.

There are disparities between pediatric obstructive sleep apnea and adult sleep apnea. While adults typically have daytime sleepiness, children are more likely to have behavioral issues. The underlying cause in adults is mostly obesity, while in children, the most prevalent underlying condition is the enlargement of the adenoids and tonsils.

Initial diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent complications that can affect children’s growth, cognitive development, and behavior.


Nightmares are a sign of pediatric sleep ApneaWhen asleep, signs and symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea might include:

  • Snoring
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Restless sleep
  • Gasping, coughing or choking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Bedwetting
  • Nightmares

Infants and young children with obstructive sleep apnea don’t often snore. They might just have disrupted sleep.

During the day, children with sleep apnea might:

  • Perform below average in school
  • Have a hard time paying attention
  • Have learning problems
  • Have behavioral problems
  • Have poor weight gain
  • Be hyperactive

When to see a doctor

Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor if your child continuously wakes up in the morning feeling tired and has behavioral problems.


Obesity is a prevalent factor causing underlying obstructive sleep apnea in adults. But in children, the most common condition leading to obstructive sleep apnea is oversized tonsils and adenoids. However, obesity also can contribute to children. Other underlying causes can be craniofacial anomalies and neuromuscular disorders.

Risk factors

Sleep Apnea risk factorsBesides obesity, other risk factors for pediatric sleep apnea include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Abnormal skull or face
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • History of low birth weight
  • Family history of obstructive sleep apnea

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea can have significant complications, including:

  • Stunted growth
  • Heart problems
  • Death

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