Both sleep apnea and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can cause attention problems, manifesting in lack of ability to concentrate during the day, behavioral problems, forgetfulness, and pool impulse control. In the face of these symptoms, many doctors may jump to an ADHD diagnosis.
The truth is, all of these behaviors commonly associated with ADHD may also signal a lack of sleep. And because many kids who have ADHD are sleep-challenged, it can be difficult to know the difference. Often it takes a dedicated pediatric dentist and sleep apnea expert to explore other causes of inattention and focus on a problem that could be right in front of a parent’s eyes: their child is not getting enough good quality sleep due to obstructive sleep apnea.
On top of sleep issues, other causes can include trauma, anxiety and depression, all of which look really similar on the surface and can cause a child to be unable to sleep. Considering symptoms like distractibility, hyperactivity and inattention in the context of all their symptoms is key in identifying the source, says the Child Mind Institute.
Because the two conditions are so intertwined, it can be difficult to make an accurate diagnosis on the first pass. This is why it’s so important for doctors to consider all factors, including sleep issues, prior to making an ADHD diagnosis.
Sleep apnea is characterized by obstruction of oral and nasal passages while the child sleeps, leading to loud snoring, breathing pauses of 10 to 20 seconds or more, and choking or gasping during sleep. Sleep apnea, particularly in kids, can lead to mood swings, irritability, exhaustion, and other issues that may not immediately be correlated with a sleep disorder.
This is what leads to so many misdiagnoses of ADHD. Many of those children have been found to have under-developed maxillae or mandibles — conditions that often result in the jaw, for instance, pushing back and closing up the airway, says Sleep Review. When the airway becomes closed up, they can’t breathe well and aren’t getting sufficient oxygen. As a result, they are constantly tired during the day and they may act out at school due to the fact that they’re simply not getting enough restorative sleep.
Sleep and Critical Development
Sleep is a vital component of cerebral function and prerequisite for the development of emotional, behavioral and cognitive skills in children, points out Sleep Disorders in Pediatric Dentistry. In fact, the negative consequences of sleep problems on child development have been well documented. Up to 20 percent of children and teens live with chronic physical, emotional and behavioral conditions, with up to 80 percent of those kids suffering from chronic sleep problems as well.
Indeed, sleep is a main factor that affects the well-being and quality of life of children and their families.
In conclusion, while it’s true many children truly do suffer from ADHD, there are many others who exhibit the same symptoms but who may be simply lacking in quality sleep due to the presence of sleep apnea. Many of those children are being prescribed medication like Ritalin, which has properties similar to cocaine, when what they really need is a correct diagnosis of sleep apnea and appropriate treatment.
Contact Sleep Apnea Center of Michigan
If you suspect your child suffers from sleep apnea, contact us today at (586) 203-2150. Dr. Roman Sadikoff and his team can get at the root cause of your child’s symptoms through non-invasive tests, dental scans and custom oral appliances.