Can Children Develop Sleep Apnea?

Topics: Sleep Apnea

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for the proper growth and development of kids. Also, failure to catch on a peaceful night of rest can affect children’s moods. Improper sleep can lead to crankiness and annoyance, making it difficult for the parents to deal with the young ones. So, if your child frequently tosses and turns in bed or wakes up with a headache and dry mouth in the morning, you should be concerned. These signs can suggest the possibility that your kid might be suffering from sleep apnea. For those of you who want to know more about the symptoms and treatment options for paediatric sleep apnea, more information is given in the next section. Have a look!

Sleep Apnea in Children.

What is paediatric sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea refers to a condition where an obstructed airway results in hindered breathing. The episodes of apnea can occur several times through the night and result in poor-quality rest. Although sleep apnea is not common in children, some growing kids suffer from this problem. But the condition goes undiagnosed in several cases because of the misconception that sleep apnea only develops in middle-aged people.

What are the sleep apnea symptoms in kids?

The paediatric sleep apnea signs are more or less similar to those displayed by adults. Some of these include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping
  • Choking
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Uneven breathing during sleep
  • Snorting
  • Sleeping in odd positions
  • Breathing through mouth
  • Coughing while sleeping

Besides these, frequent bedwetting or nightmare incidents can also betray troubled sleep. If your kid seems tired and excessively sleepy during the day, it can be a clue to his condition. Other possible side-effects of sleep apnea can be behavioural problems like hyperactivity or learning difficulties. Moreover, children or adolescents who do not sleep well at night are also poorly behaved and less interested. If your kid is displaying these signs, you should take him to a doctor and determine if he is suffering from sleep issues.

Reasons for sleep apnea in children

If your child has been diagnosed with paediatric sleep apnea, the following reasons can be responsible for his condition.

1.  Overly enlarged tonsils: 

One of the main reasons for sleep apnea in childhood is structural deformities. In kids with overly large tonsils and adenoids, the airway gets blocked while resting. To treat this problem in order to ensure that children rest well at night, surgery is a recommended treatment. The procedure has cured sleep apnea in several kids.

2.  Being Overweight:

Sleep apnea can develop in children and adults due to excess weight. Because of obesity, the neck circumference can expand. As a result, the throat muscles can get thickened, blocking the airway. Since it is comparatively easy for children to shed pounds through healthy eating and exercise, there is hope for them. Losing weight can improve their sleep cycle and whole lifestyle.

Although these are two main reasons for sleep apnea in children, other issues like medical conditions that contribute to weak muscles (like Down’s syndrome) can also lead to this rest disorder.  It is recommended to consult a doctor for correct sleep therapy.

Effects of untreated sleep apnea in children

If your child has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, begin his treatment as early as possible. It is so because untreated sleep apnea can have severe side effects on his health. 

If sleep apnea is neglected, it can lead to long periods of disturbed sleep and fatigue. As a result, kids can face difficulty paying attention in classes, which, in turn, can lead to poor academic performance and learning problems. In addition, the untreated condition can cause misdiagnosis with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in some children. It is so because patients with sleep apnea have similar symptoms to those kids who are suffering from ADHD.

Besides, seeking sleep apnea treatment is also necessary because children with this condition face challenges in thriving socially. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to growth delays, heart problems, and cognitive delays in severe cases. These complications are likely to increase if sleep apnea doesn’t get any better. Moreover, the condition can also result in high BP, increased risk of stroke and heart attack in patients. Some experts suggest that the health problem can also be linked to childhood obesity.

How can you diagnose sleep apnea in children?

If your child reports problems with sleep or feels exhausted even after getting seven to eight hours of rest every night, take him to a doctor for a check-up. He will enquire about the child’s symptoms, conduct a physical examination, and schedule a sleep study. Your child will be asked to spend a night in the sleep lab for this last step. Here, a technician will place sensors on his body to monitor his brain activity, oxygen levels, heart rate, muscle activity, and breathing patterns for the whole night. The results will be sent to a sleep specialist to determine whether the child has sleep apnea.


Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that can obstruct a child’s growth and learning ability. However, parents do not get their children tested for this condition because of a misconception that the problem only develops in middle-aged individuals. For this reason, the complications can increase in the long run.


Disclaimer: The facts and information contained in this article are obtained from reputed medical research organisations and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & beliefs of ResMed. The content here should not be taken as medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only, and because each person is unique, please consult a healthcare professional for any medical queries.

Related topics


Fill the form today to book your sleep consultation.

I want to know about:*

I am over 18 years of age, have read and accepted ResMed’ s Privacy Notice and Terms of Use, am aware that my personal data will be processed for the purposes outlined in these documents.

Thanks for submitting the form.