Obstructive Sleep Apnea In Children

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Is your child snoring at night? Mouth breathing when sleeping? Sweating heavily? Moody, cranky or showing behavioral problems during the day? These are symptoms of sleep apnea in children that may need medical attention.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the single most common type.

An affected child will have frequent airway blockages during naps or nights: she will stop breathing for several moments, then wake up briefly, gasping for breath. This can occur up to tens of times each night, or during naps.

About 1-3% of children (between 2 and 18 years old) will have a form of it at some point, which is quite a large number. Between 2 and 6 years old is the peak age, but sleep apnea in babies also occurs.

Sleep Apnea Child with Flowers

Needless to say that it's a disorder that prevents good quality naps and nights. It also brings along serious health problems and may be dangerous. That's why diagnosis and appropriate treatment is so important.

But sadly, it all too often goes unnoticed . Why?
Because the symptoms are not always crystal clear. Let's have a look.

Worried? Questions? Don't hesitate to Ask me

Signs of Sleep Apnea in Children

There are important differences between the symptoms in children and in adults [1] . In adults already it goes undiagnosed all too often, but the symptoms in children can be even more hidden, making a quick and correct diagnosis even harder.

To start with, you may not notice that your little one wakes up tens of times each night. She may wake up briefly, catch her breath, and go on sleeping.

Even though she gets very poor nights in this way, she may not even seem extremely tired during the day (the main difference with the symptoms in adults!). On the contrary, a sleep apnea child may be overly active during the day. Or be quite moody or show behavioral problems.

Read more about the signs and symptoms in children (including a complete check list).

Diagnosis in Children

As soon as you have any hint that your child may suffer from a form of apnea, see your doctor of paediatrician for a check-up.

The best diagnosis will be done by a specialized pediatric sleep center . A dedicated study and/or polysomnography will be used for the OSA diagnosis.

A polysomnography monitors sounds (snoring and gasping for breath) but also breathing, brain waves, muscle tension and oxygen levels. It's an overnight test which is either done at the pediatric center or at home with a home monitoring kit.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea in Children

The main cause in young children is relatively large tonsils and adenoids (those glands at the back of the throat and behind the nose).

The most effective classic medical treatment then is the removal of those through a so-called Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy (T&A).

Alternatively a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine can be used.

For more details on this see the apnea solutions overview .

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.


[1] Children's Sleep Apnea on Sleepapnea.org.