Sleep Apnea / ADHD which one does your child have

Sleep Apnea / ADHD


Sleep problems / ADHD seem like two very different health issues. However, it seems that many children are possibly being diagnosed with ADHD when really, they have sleep apnea or vice versa.

I will give some definitions so everyone is clear about the conditions / symptoms I am discussing.

Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder, it occurs when the throat muscles relax and close the airways for a short period of time.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder relates to a person finding it hard to concentrate or pay attention for any length of time. They are hyper active and tend to be very impulsive.

The Mixed Messages

The two conditions ADHD and Sleep Apnea can be confused, and perhaps misdiagnosed. Consider these examples:

Children respond to sleep deprivation differently from adults and they can become hyperactive. This can then be mistakenly labelled as ADHD and not Sleep Apnea.

When children are exhausted through a lack of sleep, their cognitive abilities are compromised and they can be confused and forgetful. his can lead to a diagnosis of Sleep Apnea and Insomnia. It could be ADHD

However, despite the potential for confusion, it does seem that treating one condition can help the other. Sleep Apnea contributes to behavourial problems and learning difficulties experienced by anyone with ADHD.

Sleep Apnea / ADHD – The Diferences

The differences:

Children with Sleep Apnea will

  • Snore
  • Breathe loudly
  • Mouth breath
  • Have pauses in breath
  • Sweat
  • Wet the bed
  • Have restless sleep
  • Sleep in unusual positions

During the day they will

  • Be hyperactive
  • Lack concentration
  • Have headaches in the morning
  • Not put on weight
  • Perform poorly at school

Children with ADHD will

  • Possibly have large tonsils and adenoids – this makes blocking the airways more likely
  • Have sleep problems – often becoming vibrant and energetic at night
  • Not pay attention
  • Be impulsive, and not respond well to “boring activities”
  • Possibly have daytime narcolepsy – falling asleep

Managing Sleep Apnea

How to move forward:

Get a sleep study so you understand what you are dealing with.

The result could be:

Hypopnea – abnormally shallow breathing events

Apnea – pauses in breath of 10 seconds or more. If this happens 20 times in an hour, this claims the title of Apnea.

A diagnosis of Sleep Apnea means the person never gets deep restorative sleep. This leads to the inability to consolidate information, a weak immune system and limited repair of wear and tear from the day.

This condition needs treatment.

Things you can do

Give your child one minute breaks; allow them a pause and reset. If they are particularly restless use fidget toys. If possible have a stand up desk for them.

Keep their weight down and encourage them to sleep on their sides

In terms of general sleep habits and preparing for bed, I am attached a sleep tips document at the end of this blog