1 minute read


Apnea is a condition when breathing stops during sleep. Since common brain processes regulate both sleep and breath, respiration is controlled differently when we are awake and asleep. Breathing may stop because the brain fails to tell the muscles in the lungs to contract or expand (central apnea) or because of physical obstruction of the upper airway, with breathing muscles in the diaphragm and chest continuing to function (obstructive apnea), or both combined (mixed apnea). Apneic pauses as brief as two to six seconds normally occur in infants and children. If they last longer (say, fifteen to twenty seconds), occur frequently, and are accompanied by lowered blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia), the developing brain is deprived of needed oxygen. If untreated, this Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) places a child at risk for mental deficits, heart and respiratory abnormalities, and even death. This respiratory dys-function has been associated with snoring, as well as upper respiratory infection, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Protection against its effects can be provided by treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) during sleeping as well as a number of drugs.

See also: SLEEPING


Carroll, John, and Gerald Loughlin. "Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome in Infants and Children: Diagnosis and Management." In Richard Ferber and Meier Kryger eds., Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine in the Child. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1995.

Evelyn B. Thoman

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1