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Blog Feature

By: AAST Associate Editor on September 16th, 2021

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Pediatric Sleep Development and Sleep Related Breathing Disorders

sleep disorder breathing and children | pediatric sleep

Sleep in the pediatric population is ever-changing with sleep-specific characteristics and behaviors constantly changing as the child grows. In order to properly treat pediatric patients, sleep technologists need to have a thorough understanding of the stages of sleep development and know the signs of abnormal sleep behaviors.

Purpose of Sleep

Sleep plays a critical role in our lives, but it is especially important in pediatrics as it can effect learning capabilities, memory retention, behavior, growth and overall cognitional functions. As mentioned in Module 3 of the AAST Advanced Pediatrics Module Series, sleep is a biological requirement that is as important as the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe. While time spent sleeping varies per age demographic, the average amount of time one should spend sleeping is:

  • Newborn: 70% of 24 hours
  • Child: 35-60% of 24 hours
  • Adults 25-30% of 24 hours

Infant Sleep and Behavioral Characteristics

As an infant’s brain waves are not fully developed it can be difficult to determine when they are truly awake or asleep. Sleep professionals should be aware of the characteristics used to determine an infant’s wake and sleep cycle:

Wakefulness characteristics include:

  • Eyes open
  • Active crying
  • Scanning eye movements
  • Eyes closed when crying

Sleep characteristics include:

  • Eyes closed
  • Few body movements
  • Sucking motions
  • Muscle twitches

Respiratory Rates

When determining what irregular breathing rates look like in pediatrics, it is important to assess what normal breathing looks like for the infant or child based on their age. Average respiratory rates for pediatrics are as follows:

  • Newborn: 30-60 breaths per minute
  • Infant (1-12 months): 30-60 breaths per minute
  • Toddler (1-2 years): 24-60 breaths per minute
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 22-34 breaths per minute
  • School-age (6-12 years): 18-30 breaths per minute
  • Adolescent (13-17 years): 12-16 breaths per minute

Note: For abnormal respiratory rates, medical professionals will use several terms including bradypnea, breathing that is abnormally slow, deep and appears labored, tachypnea, an elevated respiratory rate that is usually shallow, and hyperpnea, when deeper than usual breaths are taken.


Sleep is a biological requirement we all need, but especially infants and children. To effectively evaluate this demographic, sleep technologists need to have a working knowledge of sleep and behavioral characteristics, and pediatric respiratory rates to swiftly address concerns should they arise during testing.


Access the AAST Advanced Pediatrics Module Series