Sleep Apnea in Children: Care Instructions

Skip Navigation


Sleep apnea means that your child stops breathing during sleep. It can be mild to severe, based on the number of times an hour that it happens. In general, most experts say that if a child stops breathing 1 to 5 times an hour, they may have mild sleep apnea. Moderate sleep apnea means breathing stops 5 to 10 times an hour. With severe sleep apnea, a child stops breathing 10 or more times an hour.

It's called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) when blocked or narrowed airways in the nose, mouth, or throat keep a child from getting normal airflow. Being overweight or having swollen tonsils or adenoids are common causes of sleep apnea. Your child's airway also can be blocked when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep.

Your child may have symptoms such as:

  • Snoring (sometimes with pauses in breathing).
  • Tossing and turning during sleep.
  • Feeling sleepy during the day.
  • Wetting the bed.
  • Having headaches.
  • Having trouble paying attention.
  • Having behavioral problems.

The doctor will give your child a physical exam. Your doctor may suggest sleep tests to find out if your child has sleep apnea.

Surgery to remove the tonsils and adenoids is a common treatment for sleep apnea. In some cases, lifestyle changes can help treat the problem. For children who are overweight, weight loss can help. Sleep apnea may also be treated at home using a machine that helps keep tissues in the throat from blocking the airway.

If sleeping on their back makes your child's sleep apnea worse, or if other treatments don't work, your doctor may suggest devices that help change your child's sleeping position.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Do not smoke around your child. Smoke can make sleep apnea worse. Treat breathing problems, such as a stuffy nose, that are caused by a cold or allergies. Help your child stay at a healthy weight. Choose healthy foods for meals, and encourage daily exercise.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.
  • Your child has new or worse symptoms of sleep apnea. These may include snoring, feeling sleepy during the day, headaches, or trouble paying attention.
  • Your child is still sleepy during the day, and it affects their daily life.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter S296 in the search box to learn more about "Sleep Apnea in Children: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.