Sleep Apnea and ADD Connections

Although western medicine practitioners often like to segment the body and disease into various categories, we are beginning to learn even more about how all of the systems of the body are interconnected. Often, the detrimental effects of one condition will lead to another condition, and many times health problems are intertwined and should be treated as such. Researchers are discovering that the relationship between sleep apnea and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) may be one such connection.

One of the first things when learning about the connection between the two conditions is to understand a little bit about each one of them and how they might be interrelated.

What is Sleep Apnea?

This sleeping disorder is a chronic condition where the person does not breathe as much as they should during sleep. This may be due to a physical blockage or a neurological misfire, but the result is the same in that a lack of oxygen and increase in carbon dioxide can create dangerous health problems over time.

Some of the symptoms of Sleep Apnea include loud snoring, waking up with choking or gasping for air, headaches in the morning, daytime sleepiness, and mood changes such as irritability and lack of concentration.

People who are more at a higher risk of sleep apnea include those who are overweight, have high blood pressure, sleep on their backs, have a large neck circumference, have hypothyroidism, drink alcohol, smoke, take certain drugs, or have blockages of airways such as swollen adenoids or tonsils, allergies, or deviated septum.

What is ADD?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) has increased in almost epidemic proportions over recent years. At least 13% of adolescents have this condition that is characterized by forgetfulness, distractibility, thoughts moving in different directions, and inability to finish work. Other symptoms include weight gain, lack of learning ability, reckless actions, and even problems with appearance. Not surprisingly, these types of symptoms are often crossed over with people who struggle with sleep deprivation.

While ADD is more commonly diagnosed in adolescents and children, the symptoms and condition are often pervasive in adults too. For children, the results can often interfere with a child’s ability to develop intellectually and socially, creating problems within the family as well as the education system. For adults, this can result in loss of job, family issues, organizational concerns, and serious social problems.

ADD and Sleep Apnea

Because many of the symptoms of ADD and sleep apnea have a tendency to overlap with each other, some medical professionals are now taking a look at the links between sleep-disordered breathing and the occurrence of ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). One large-scale study of over 11,000 children in the United States found that those who suffered from breathing disorders during sleep (including sleep apnea) were much more likely to exhibit signs of ADD—including trouble connecting with peers, showing hyperactivity, inability to follow rules, and even being aggressive. This can include children of a very young age—sometimes as young as 7 years of age.

Both insomnia (which can often be related to sleep apnea) and sleep apnea remain underdiagnosed in many cases. This may be partly due to the fact that a large majority of adults do not talk to their doctors about problems with sleep, but it also could be because many people with sleep apnea are not consciously aware of the deep impact their sleep problems are having on their quality of life.

The cause for sleep apnea, particularly in children, may be related to underdeveloped jaw bones, which can interfere with breathing during sleep. Other problems may include illness related to swollen tonsils, swollen adenoids, allergies that have a tendency to block the nasal passages, or even obesity which causes the throat or back of the tongue to fall in on itself.

Complications and Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

In addition to attention and other problems related to ADD, sleep apnea has been linked to a variety of dangerous medical conditions that can even be the cause of a shortened life span. This may include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other extremely serious health problems.

For people struggling with ADD, a sleep study (polysomnogram) can determine if the cause does overlap as part of a sleep related breathing problem. A sleep study is a non-invasive procedure, typically performed in a sleep clinic (often similar to a hotel room) where various tests are taken while a person sleeps. These tests will likely include blood oxygen levels, leg movements, eye movement, heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, brain waves, and other measurements taken through the use of various monitors. After the test, your doctor should help you determine the cause of your sleep apnea and how to treat it.

Solutions for Sleep Apnea

In many people, treating sleep apnea can often relieve some of the problems associated with it that may have masked themselves under the guise of ADD. Treatment is typically non-invasive, but your physician will give you a full diagnosis to determine the cause so that a treatment plan can be fitted to your own personal needs.

One of the most common treatment options for sleep apnea is a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine that keeps the airways open. This machine is hooked up to the person through the use of tubes and a mask, forcing air through the breathing passages and keeping them from closing up. Special pillows (and even mattresses) can be used to allow more comfortable sleeping positions that are effective for treating sleep apnea and aiding with breathing.

For children who are struggling with sleep apnea, minor surgery such as removal of adenoids or tonsils may be required. Other options may include an orthodontic palate expander, or treatment of allergies which cause the airways to become blocked. In many cases, treatment of sleep apnea can help to relieve many of the symptoms of ADD that might stem from sleeping problems.


When the issues of sleep apnea are addressed, you may find that a return of greater health. This could possibly include greater ability to concentrate, heightened memory, and a reduction of many of the emotional and physical effects that can go along with a child or adult who suffers from the problems related to sleep apnea and ADD. If you are concerned that you or a family member may be suffering from sleep apnea in relationship to ADD, contact a medical professional or sleep specialist for an evaluation.

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