According to a new review of studies in the US and UK conducted by researchers at the University of Adelaide, about half of children who snore or have sleep apnoea were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

It’s worth noting that the symptoms of ADHD are often experienced by adults who have sleep apnoea as well as children, though many are better at concealing them.

How Poor Sleep May Contribute to ADHD

Sleep apnoea leads to a number of problems that can be attributed to ADHD, such as::

  • Irritability
  • Emotional instability
  • Peer problems
  • Increased aggression
  • Reduced attention
  • Lower academic performance
  • Hyperactivity

Many of these symptoms could be attributed to ADHD, highlighting a concern that many doctors have long had about ADHD: that it’s not actually a condition, but a set of symptoms, which can be caused by many different things, including sleep disturbance.

Adults often experience similar problems, though it may be hard to identify the irritability, emotional instability, and more because adults are better at concealing these symptoms. Bosses often notice, though, that they have lost focus and have diminished job performance. Adults who are having trouble at work or are suddenly finding it harder to deal with the everyday frustrations of work or home life should consider getting evaluated for sleep apnoea.

Treating Children Is Different

Children with sleep apnoea can be harder to treat than adults. Oral appliances haven’t been shown to be effective, and CPAP compliance is even lower in children (which is really saying something). Surgery can be used, but there is limited evidence of effectiveness, and it has even higher risks for children than adults.

In children, a watch and wait attitude is often recommended. In children, sleep apnoea is often caused by uneven growth rates, so children often grow out of it. On the other hand, with rising childhood obesity rates, it’s likely that obesity will come to be the same major cause in childhood that it currently is among adults.