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  • Writer's pictureCAFF Team


Updated: Jun 5

Sleep and airway health are closely connected when it comes to health. Obtaining the right amount good quality sleep is essential for a child's health and development. Proper breathing also plays a critical role. In fact, improper breathing during sleep, such a snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), can prevent your child from getting the restorative sleep they need --- which can have detrimental consequences on their long-term health.

obstructive sleep apnea in children, kids sleep issues

Sleep plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. During sleep, our body restores and rejuvenates itself, and a lack of quality, restorative sleep can lead to serious health issues.

Some of the essential functions of sleep include:

  1. Physical Repair and Growth: Sleep helps to repair and grow tissues, build bone and muscle, and strengthen your child's immune system.

  2. Brain Function and Development: Sleep is essential for brain development and function, including the clearance of waste from the brain, the consolidation of memories, and the regulation of emotions.

  3. Hormone Regulation: Sleep helps to regulate hormones that control appetite, growth, and development.

  4. Cardiovascular Health: Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

  5. Immune Function: Sleep is essential for the proper functioning of your child's immune system. Continuous sleep deprivation can weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to illnesses.

  6. Cognitive Function: Sleep is necessary for attention, memory, and learning. Lack of sleep can affect your child's ability to concentrate, make decisions, and respond quickly.

  7. Mental Health: Sleep helps to regulate your child's emotions. A lack of quality sleep can lead to anxiety, depression, and mood swings.


Sleep is a non-negotiable biological state required for the maintenance of human life… our need for sleep parallels those for air, food, and water. – Grandner & Fernandez 2021 SCIENCE


According to a 2007 report from the US National Library of Medicine, sleep issues have become a prevalent issue among school-aged children. The importance of sleep for your child's mental and physical health cannot be overstated. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that sleep problems affect 25% to 50% of children and 40 percent of adolescents.

There are a variety of things that can work against your child having a restful and restorative evening of sleep each night including their activities, what they eat, and how they breathe.


In pediatric obstructive sleep apnea, your child's breath is repeatedly partially or completely blocked during sleep. Their breathing will appear as events of reductions or pauses which typically increase during REM sleep. This condition is caused by a narrowing or blockage of the upper airway during sleep.

When a child's breathing is disrupted during sleep, due to sleep disorder breathing and the drop in oxygen levels, the brain signals to the body that the child is choking. This alert triggers the body into action causing blood pressure to rise and the child's sleep to be interrupted as the body tries to recover.

When airway health and development are suboptimal, this will have a profound negative impact on sleep. While adults can experience OSA as well, it often presents different in children. Here are a few of the signs and symptoms for poor airway and sleep health in children:

  • Poor weight gain

  • Mouth breathing/open mouth posture

  • Receding lower jaw

  • Narrow palate (roof of the mouth)

  • Snoring or noisy breathing

  • Night terrors

  • Bedwetting past appropriate age

  • Frequently tired/wakes grumpy & unrefreshed

  • Dark circles under eyes

  • Crooked or crowded teeth (baby teeth touching)

  • Early tooth decay

  • Teeth indentation on tongue edges (scalloping)

  • Bad bite

  • Chronic ear infections or Tonsillitis

  • Unusual sleep positions & restless sleep

Here are some key connections between sleep and airway health in kids:


  1. Sleep Apnea: Your child's breath is repeatedly partially or completely blocked during sleep. Their breathing will appear as events of reductions or pauses which typically increase during REM sleep. This condition is caused by a narrowing or blockage of the upper airway during sleep.

  2. Open Mouth Breathing: Nasal congestion, allergies and more can lead to mouth breathing, which causes reduced oxygen uptake and poor sleep quality. Mouth breathing can also lead to changes in facial structure through development as well as an increased risk of developing sleep apnea.

  3. Snoring or Audible Breathing: Snoring is a sign of a pinched airway, which can disrupt sleep quality and lead to fatigue, headaches, and other health issues.

  4. Sleep Quality: Poor sleep quality can lead to inflammation, exacerbating conditions like sleep apnea and asthma.


From Sleep Wrecked Kids, Sharon Moore’s top three questions for parents are:

  • Is my child getting enough sleep? (Appropriate quantity based on age)

  • Are they waking refreshed?

  • Are they getting good quality sleep?

ANY "no" to the questions above is a red flag to investigate further!

How much sleep should your child get each night based on their age? While every child is different, experts recommend:

  • infants (0–3 months): 14–17 hours, including naps

  • infants (4–12 months: 12–16 hours, including naps

  • toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours, including naps

  • preschool (3–5 years): 10–13 hours, including naps

  • school-age (6–13 years): 9–12 hours

  • teens (14–17 years): 8–10 hours

Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are highly prevalent among children, and these problems are underreported, under recognized, under diagnosed, and often untreated. - Dr. David McIntosh

airway huddle, parent's resources, kids airway issues


If you believe your child has an airway or sleep-disordered breathing issue, the first step is to make an appointment with your airway-centric dentist or pediatrician. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when meeting with your child's provider:

  • Bring notes detailing the signs and symptoms you've identified that cause you to believe your child has an airway issue

  • Take time to write down your questions before your visit and bring them with you to the appointment so you can ensure you don't miss anything

  • Take notes during the visit --- writing down any diagnosis names, treatments, or new medications

  • Ask about any recommended tests or procedures --- make sure you understand why they are being recommended and ask questions so you know what to expectSleep breathing issues are one of the most, if not the most, chronic health conditions in children.

An airway focused dentist, speech language pathologist (trained in myofunctional therapy), or a myofunctional therapist would be a great first step in assembling your care team and determining next steps to address sleep disordered breathing.

Looking for more information about airway health and kids sleep issues? Here are two amazing books we recommend as good places to start:

  1. Sleep Wrecked Kids, by Sharon Moore

  2. A Parent's Guide to Sleep Disorder Breathing, by Dr. David McIntosh

recommended reading, kids sleep, healthy kids

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