Why sleep apnea and ADHD are often related

November 25, 2014

If you have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to problems with concentration, disorganization or memory issues, you may actually be suffering from sleep apnoea. Often, disorders and diseases are tied together, and it's up to you to perform proper research in order to avoid a misdiagnosis. Learning about the connection between ADHD and sleep apnoea, and the way these two disorders are often tied together, can help you manage your condition. Be sure to consult your doctor.

Why sleep apnea and ADHD are often related

ADHD vs. sleep apnoea

ADHD is known for causing problems with staying on task at school and work, as well as for creating issues with impulsivity. Sleep apnoea occurs when you stop breathing for short periods during sleep, have shallow breathing and also probably suffer from snoring. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms produced by sleep apnoea are similar to ADHD, and many doctors fail to test for sleep apnoea when treating ADHD. If you suspect you have ADHD or have already received a diagnosis of ADHD, it's important you first rule out sleep apnoea.

Numerous studies have shown a relationship between ADHD and sleep apnoea. A study of 11,000 children published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children suffering from breathing-related sleep disorders were likely to have attention problems, hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour. These are similar symptoms seen in ADHD.

How to tell the difference

One of the best ways to determine if you have sleep apnoea is to ask someone you know if they notice that you stop breathing in your sleep or if you snore. You should probably get tested for sleep apnoea if either of these things occur. However, it's also acceptable to record yourself while you're sleeping and review the audio the next day.

People with sleep apnoea often have concentration and memory problems, but they also tend to suffer from fatigue. People with ADHD often suffer from fatigue, but it's usually more pronounced in sleep apnoea. Children with ADHD often also have large adenoids or tonsils that can obstruct their airways, so it's important to have a doctor examine your child's airways.

Testing and treatment options

If you suspect you or a loved one has sleep apnoea, it's a good idea to get an overnight sleep study performed. This test will determine if you pause while breathing during the night and whether your snoring actually interferes with your ability to sleep.

Thankfully, sleep apnoea is treatable in both adults and children. The most common treatment is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, which helps regulate breathing. However, there are also other treatment methods available. Some people find success after the removal of their tonsils and other obstructions, and others benefit from surgery or specially designed mouth appliances that can correct breathing.

There is significant evidence tying sleep problems to ADHD. The two issues can be closely related, and it's possible that treating sleep apnoea can actually lead to the remission of ADHD symptoms in some people. Be sure to consult your doctor.

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