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Does My Child Have Sleep Apnea?

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Four surprising signs that your child may have obstructive sleep apnea

What parent hasn’t become preoccupied with their child’s sleep at one time or another? Most often, we’re worried about how best to get them to fall (and stay) asleep during their first year. Or maybe we’re considering when to drop a nap from our toddler’s daily routine, or simply marveling at how angelic they appear when catching ZZZs.

Now, there’s something else parents should be looking for to ensure their little one is getting the most restful sleep possible: If your child’s sleep appears to be disturbed, it may indicate they have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—up to 10 percent of children do. Even their behavior during the day might point you in the direction of this diagnosis.

OSA is especially important to monitor for in children, as the disorder is usually dismissed as an adult’s problem, and many of the signs of sleep apnea in children aren’t as obvious as the disorder’s more common symptoms like snoring, pauses in breathing, daytime sleepiness and restlessness at night.

Suspect your child may have sleep apnea? Here are four things to look for:

1.     Your child is wetting the bed.

A chronic issue for many small children, nocturnal enuresis (also known as “bedwetting”) occurs when children over the age of 5 involuntary urinate during sleep. In fact, it’s estimated that 13-20 percent of 5-year-old children, 10 percent of 7-year-olds and 5 percent of 10-year-old children still wet the bed.

However, bedwetting can also be a sign of sleep apnea. Because breathing during sleep can be more of a challenge for a child suffering from sleep apnea, the brain shifts into overdrive to take oxygen in rather than to control bladder function.  

Most often, a child’s enlarged tonsils and adenoids are blocking their airway and causing the apnea, making tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy good options for treatment. In fact, these surgeries are the most common treatment for pediatric sleep apnea.

2.     Your child is sleepwalking.

Somnambulism (also known as “sleepwalking”) is much more common in children than in adults and is most often seen in children between the ages of 4 and 8. Further, sleepwalking usually occurs within the first two hours of the child falling asleep, making parents more likely to bear witness to it.  

As it is more likely to occur in children who are sleep deprived, sleepwalking may be an indicator of an underlying condition such as sleep apnea.

3.     Your child is grinding their teeth at night.

If your child grinds or gnashes their teeth at night, they are more likely to have sleep apnea, as nearly one in four people with OSA exhibit this behavior.

What’s the connection? According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, “It’s unclear why the two are linked, but researchers believe that arousals caused by upper airway resistance lead to a stress response felt throughout the body. Once awoken from an apnea, your heart and respiratory rates increase while stress hormones flood the bloodstream. Increased muscle activity in the jaw inspired by this stress response may be a cause for clenching or grinding.”

4.     Your child is hyperactive during the day.

Because sleep apnea seriously impacts the quality of one’s sleep and thus the quality of one’s life the following day, it can cause children to be more irritable, impulsive and hyperactive in their waking hours.

This has led to some children with sleep apnea to be misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even prescribed Ritalin. One study found that in 81 percent of ADHD children with sleep apnea, treatment of the apnea to alleviate or abolish snoring may lead to the spontaneous disappearance of ADHD symptoms.

Even though up to 10 percent of children have OSA, the majority will outgrow it. However, as the consequences of not treating OSA may include bedwetting, ADHD, behavior problems and poor academic performance, it’s best to treat it so that you child can sleep soundly at night and thrive during the day.

If your child regularly exhibits any of the above signs while asleep, they could have sleep apnea—but it’s best to contact their pediatrician to make sure. Their pediatrician may refer you to a sleep specialist, if needed.


If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP treatment, a SoClean Automated CPAP Cleaner & Sanitizer Device can help make daily cleaning of the machine simpler and better. If you have any questions, please reach us at or (800) 341-7014.