Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your child's breathing is partially or completely blocked during sleep. It can happen several times a night. The condition occurs when the upper airway narrows or is blocked during sleep.

There are differences between pediatric obstructive sleep apnea and adult sleep apnea. While adults usually have daytime sleepiness, children are more likely to have behavioral problems. The cause in adults is often obesity, while in children it's often larger than usual adenoids and tonsils. The adenoids are two small pads of tissue found in the back of the nose. The tonsils are two oval-shaped pads in the back of the mouth.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent complications that can affect children's growth, cognitive development and behavior.


During sleep, symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea might include:

  • Snoring.
  • Pauses in breathing.
  • Restless sleep.
  • Snorting, coughing or choking.
  • Mouth breathing.
  • Nighttime sweating.
  • Bed-wetting.
  • Sleep terrors.

Infants and young children with obstructive sleep apnea don't always snore. They might just have disturbed sleep.

During the day, children with sleep apnea might:

  • Perform poorly in school.
  • Have trouble paying attention.
  • Have learning problems.
  • Have behavioral problems.
  • Have poor weight gain.
  • Be hyperactive.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your child's health care professional if your child wakes up in the morning feeling tired and has behavioral problems on a regular basis.


In adults, obesity is a common factor in obstructive sleep apnea. While obesity plays a role in the disorder in some children, obstructive sleep apnea is more commonly related to enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Other underlying factors may include being born with a birth defect related to the shape of the face or head. They also may include neuromuscular disorders that affect the way muscles function because of problems with the nerves and muscles in the body.

Risk factors

Besides obesity, other risk factors for pediatric sleep apnea include having:

  • Down syndrome.
  • Birth defects in the skull or face.
  • Cerebral palsy.
  • Sickle cell disease.
  • Neuromuscular disease.
  • History of low birth weight.
  • Family history of obstructive sleep apnea.


Rarely, pediatric obstructive sleep apnea can cause a failure to grow in infants and young children. Children with obstructive sleep apnea who don't receive treatment also may be at an increased risk of later developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prediabetes, and other heart and blood vessel conditions. Very rarely, children who have certain genetic conditions can have serious symptoms of pediatric obstructive sleep apnea that can lead to death. However, complications can be managed with treatment.