Sleep disordered breathing is a common but under-diagnosed complication causing sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms in children with spinal muscular atrophy. Non-invasive (positive pressure) ventilation is an established treatment of respiratory failure; its role in treatment of sleep disordered breathing though remains controversial. Aim of this study was to verify the hypothesis that nocturnal non-invasive ventilation has beneficial impact on breathing during sleep, sleep quality and daytime complaints in children with spinal muscular atrophy. Twelve children with spinal muscular atrophy type I or II (7.8+/-1.9 years) underwent polysomnography and were asked to fill out a symptom questionnaire. Seven patients (six with spinal muscular atrophy I and one with spinal muscular atrophy II) had sleep disordered breathing and received non-invasive ventilation during sleep. Five less severely affected patients (one with spinal muscular atrophy I and four with spinal muscular atrophy II) had no sleep disordered breathing and served as reference group. Patients were restudied after 6-12 months. In patients with sleep disordered breathing both sleep architecture and disease related symptoms were significantly worse than in the reference-group. Non-invasive ventilation during sleep completely eliminated disordered breathing, normalized sleep architecture and improved symptoms (P<0.05 for all). In children with spinal muscular atrophy sleep disordered breathing may cause relevant impairment of sleep and well-being. Both can be highly improved by nocturnal non-invasive ventilation.