Signs Your Child Stops Breathing In Their Sleep

As parents, we often spend a lot of time thinking and watching our children sleep. It’s fair to say that sometimes the position they settle in or the way they move around can be amusing (I never could understand how my son would sleep on his front with his bum in the air!) or cute (those little snores).

However, could some of these things be a sign of something more sinister?

Sleep Apnoea is a condition that affects between one and five percent of children, it is where their breathing stops and starts during sleep. It is more common in children with sickle cell disease and Down Syndrome.

The long term health risk comes from chronic sleep deprivation as the brain constantly wakes the child to breathe. Chronic sleep deprivation affects behaviour, cognitive ability, anxiety and depression, diabetes, obesity and many other health problems.

How do you know whether your child has sleep apnoea?


Snoring is normal, right? Cute when my kid or puppy does it, not so cute when my husband does it!

But is snoring normal in kids?

Well no it isn’t actually and it could be a sign that there is something wrong. So if your little one is a regular snorer or mouth breather (and not just when they have a cold a couple of times year) then read on.

Snoring is where air flows past the relaxed tissues in the throat, causing them to vibrate and produce that (annoying when you’re trying to sleep) sound.

Its fair to say that if your child is snoring it’s quite possible that they are not getting good quality sleep. This can affect their mood, behaviour and cognitive ability. Long term, this can affect their education milestones. 

Often, snoring can be related to chronic allergy where the nose and throat is inflamed or blocked or it could be obstructive sleep apnoea.

Waking Up Upset

Whilst it is quite normal for children to cry in the night and need parental support, some children with sleep apnoea wake in a fright. It makes sense doesn’t it? Waking and not being able to breathe can be scary!

This may also happen during the day time as sleep apnoea isn’t only a night time occurrence.

You may even hear them gasp for air as they wake up.


Night time dryness is a developmental skill that happens at different ages for different children. The hormone vasopressin reduces the amount of urine produced at night time. Until brain development and hormone levels are just right, children simply won’t wake in the night to use the toilet.

However if your child is waking in the night due to sleep apnoea or other sleep disturbance, they could be producing urine and then wetting the bed rather than the other way around.

Moves Around A Lot

Children who move around a lot in bed could be doing so because they are trying to find the best position for a clear airway. If your child seems to sleep in an uncomfortable-looking position with their neck extended backward, they could be struggling with sleep apnoea.

Challenging Behaviour

If your child seems hyperactive, irritable, or easily upset, it could be that they are sleep deprived as a result of being disturbed in the night through sleep apnoea.

Slow Eater

Large tonsils can make it difficult for children to eat as it’s hard to swallow and breathe at the same time. So some children will appear to be fussy or slow eaters.

Recurrent Colds

Children with large tonsils/adenoids have a reduced capacity for breathing. If the catch a cold or virus is causes inflammation and further reduces the airway. If your child seems to always pick up colds, it’s worth having the GP check out their throat.

What to do

Some of these symptoms are common things for children to experience, but if you recognise a couple of them in your own little one, it is worth getting them checked out by your GP/ENT Specialist.

You may be referred for a sleep study which measures breathing and heart rate while they sleep.

Sleep apnoea may be treated by removing tonsils/adenoids, nasal spray, mouth guards, a nasal splint or a mask to be worn at night.

Lots more information can be found at https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/osa-in-children