little girls sleeping peacefully in bed, cuddling her teddy bearThe distinction between pediatric sleep-disordered breathing and pediatric sleep apnea isn’t always clear to parents and caregivers of children with airway problems. Your child can have sleep-disordered breathing without having sleep apnea. These conditions sometimes lie on a continuum.

  1. Snoring
  2. Upper airway resistance syndrome
  3. Obstructive hypopnea
  4. Obstructive sleep apnea.

Other times, sleep apnea (obstructive or central) is present without the progression above. And still, your child could have a lesser condition from the above list that never progresses to sleep apnea.


Snoring is the least severe form of pediatric sleep-disordered breathing. Many parents and caregivers find snoring in children cute, but it could mean a partial obstruction in their airway or that their jaws are positioned too far back. The soft tissues in your child’s airway (throat and nasal passages) can sag when sleeping. The snoring sound you hear is air rushing past these sagging soft tissues.

The obstruction can occur in the nose from the tonsils or throat from the tongue and other soft tissues. When a child’s jaw is positioned too far back, the tongue falls back into the airway when it’s relaxed. A child with a correctly set jaw has enough room for the tongue to relax and not get in the way.

Snoring doesn’t usually cause daytime sleepiness or the severe symptoms of sleep apnea. But snoring could progress later in your child’s life.

Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome

Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is more severe than snoring but not as severe as obstructive hypopnea or sleep apnea. The soft tissues in the airway are still sagging, but more so than with snoring, even though snoring is still present. When your child has UARS, daytime symptoms will start to emerge, such as daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and cognitive trouble like memory and concentration.

Yet, UARS is still not sleep apnea because there is no stoppage in breathing at night. Or if there is, it’s very slight and doesn’t happen often or long enough to be classified as childhood obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive Hypopnea

Obstructive hypopnea is another sleep condition your child can have where their airway is partially blocked. It can occur due to hypothyroidism, obesity, jaw shape, or the size of their  tonsils or adenoids.

Since the obstruction is more severe, the symptoms become more severe too. Children can experience da