ADHD & Sleep Disorders The Controversial Connection
April 02, 2018
Submitted by Todd Gray, DDS, D.ASBA, Koala Center for Sleep Disorders
As the school year starts to wind down, parents may be concerned that some of the learning and behavior issues that were noticed in the beginning of the year still haven’t been resolved. One of the most controversial topics that comes up frequently is ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s thought that two to four percent of children have this condition, and a shocking 50 percent of children with this condition are on some form of prescription medication. Not only is it seen in children, but adults can have it as well. Symptoms include the inability to focus or pay attention, being easily distracted, and various behavioral problems in the classroom. There are a number of proposed explanations for why ADHD occurs, including brain biochemical imbalances, environmental and dietary toxins, and allergic conditions. However, sleep apnea may be the real problem, not ADHD.
Simply getting enough sleep can dramatically improve a child’s behavior and focus. We know from numerous studies that poor sleep — whether not enough sleep, or poor quality sleep — can adversely affect the brain in a number of different ways. For one thing, lack of oxygen to the brain has been shown to cause lowered blood flow and metabolism in critical areas of the brain, including parts that involve memory and cognitive function. According to WebMD, brain imaging shows that children with untreated sleep apnea show evidence of injury in the regions of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and complex thought. These children also had lower IQ scores and scored lower on standardized tests than children without a sleep disorder.
The Journal of Pediatrics published a study linking behavior problems in children with snoring and sleep apnea. According to the study, children who snore or who have other nighttime breathing conditions have 50 to 100 percent increased symptoms of hyperactivity. Behavioral sleep problems can impair daytime function in ways that mimic ADHD’s manifestations.
Following are some signs and symptoms that your child may have a sleep disorder:
- Breathing through the mouth while sleeping allows the tongue to drop down from the roof of the mouth to slide back into the throat and block the airway.
- Wet pillow in the morning
- Enuresis (bed wetting)
- History of allergies
- Frequent colds or sore throat
- Frequent ear infections
- Excessive tiredness
If you suspect any sort of sleep disorder, have your child evaluated by their pediatrician or ENT. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, get him or her evaluated for a breathing/airway disorder by a physician. It’s important to identify sleep and airway issues as early as possible as critical growth and development occurs at a young age. School performance, behavior, and ADHD can all be associated with breathing and sleep quality. If a sleep disorder is discovered, it can be effectively treated without drugs. A sleep disorder not only results in a sleepy, cranky, and often poor-performing student at school, but also an irritable, unhappy child at home.
For more information on Oral Appliance Therapy for snoring, sleep apnea, and TMJ Disorder please contact Dr. Gray at the Koala Center for Sleep Disorders in Bloomington at 309-319-6568, or visit bloomingtonsleep.com to schedule an appointment.
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