Is There a Connection Between Sleep Apnea and ADHD?
Posted: January 17, 2022
Sleep apnea is a serious health condition that can take years off your life. There may also be a connection between sleep apnea and ADHD, a common mental health condition. People with ADHD may be more prone to sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and sleep apnea can also worsen symptoms of ADHD. In this article, we will explore some of the evidence about sleep apnea and ADHD.
What is Sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects approximately 50-70 million adults in the United States. Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing or breathe shallowly throughout the night. When this happens, you don’t get enough air and oxygen, which causes your body to wake you up to help you breathe again. This can lead to poor sleep quality and sleep fragmentation. Untreated sleep apnea can also increase your risk for other serious health conditions, like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. Many people with ADHD also have sleep apnea. Therefore, if you think you have sleep apnea, talk to one of our treatment providers about diagnosis and treatment.
Symptoms and Risk Factors for Sleep apnea
People with sleep apnea can experience a wide variety of symptoms and health effects. Because of the dangers of sleep apnea, it’s important to talk to one of our treatment providers if you suspect you have sleep apnea.
Some symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Pauses in breathing at night
- Waking up gasping
- Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
Anyone can have sleep apnea. However, there are some common risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing sleep apnea. Some of these include being overweight or obese, having a larger neck circumference, being middle-aged or older, and being male.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a mental condition that affects many people. ADHD stands for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Some common symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with normal activities like work, school, or social situations. This common condition can present in many different ways. Most people show symptoms in childhood and the condition can extend into adulthood. Scientists are still studying what causes ADHD, but we do know that an estimated 4% of people in the U.S. suffer from this condition, with men and boys being more at risk.
Symptoms of ADHD in adults can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor time management skills
- Difficulty multitasking
- Poor planning
- Making careless mistakes
- Daytime fatigue
Just as ADHD looks different for everyone, treatment also varies. Your ADHD treatment plan may include things like lifestyle changes, therapy, and medications. Doctors commonly prescribe stimulants to help with the symptoms of ADHD.
Common Symptoms Between Sleep apnea and ADHD Can Lead to Misdiagnosis
As you may have noticed from the previous sections, sleep apnea and ADHD share several common symptoms. In many cases, sleep apnea can be misdiagnosed as ADHD because of this, or vice versa. Diagnosing ADHD typically involves discussing symptoms and ruling out other health conditions. However, many doctors may not screen for sleep apnea when discussing common ADHD symptoms like difficulty concentrating or daytime fatigue. These symptoms are also common for sleep apnea sufferers.
In fact, there’s a frequently cited case of a young man with sleep apnea who was misdiagnosed with ADHD. The man was young, healthy, had a healthy BMI, and also slept eight hours a night, yet still felt tired and unfocused during the day. The man was diagnosed with ADHD and given treatment, but months later felt no difference. The man’s doctor discovered he was actually suffering from sleep apnea, and the poor sleep he received each night was likely the cause of his symptoms. Therefore, there are cases of misdiagnosis of ADHD for sleep apnea.
The good news is that diagnosing sleep apnea generally involves a simple sleep test. Our team even offers home sleep test options at our sleep apnea clinic. This allows you to test for sleep apnea in the comfort of your own home. During the sleep apnea test, a device records a lot of different data, like oxygen levels in your blood, chest movements, and heart beats. This information can help a doctor determine if you’re experiencing apnea events, which is where you stop breathing or breathe shallowly for several seconds or minutes during sleep.
People with ADHD May be More Prone to Sleep Disorders like Sleep Apnea
Also, many people have both ADHD and sleep apnea. In fact, people with ADHD commonly have sleep disorders. An estimated 25% to 50% of people with ADHD also suffer from sleep problems. Some estimate that about one-third of people with ADHD have sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring and sleep apnea.
One 2019 study looked at patients with sleep apnea and screened them for ADHD. The researchers found a higher prevalence of ADHD in their patients with sleep apnea. While most estimate about 4.4% of the population has ADHD, the study found that 19.1% of the people they studied with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) had ADHD. Therefore, if you have sleep apnea, you may have a higher risk for ADHD and vice versa. The researchers also found that the people they studied with both conditions tended to feel sleepier than the patients who didn’t have a positive screening for ADHD.
Untreated Sleep Apnea can Worsen ADHD Symptoms
For many people, sleep apnea can also aggravate ADHD symptoms and make them worse. This may be due to poor sleep quality from waking up at night during apnea events. During sleep, our brains and bodies heal themselves. Deep sleep is restorative and responsible for many things, including organizing and processing information we’ve learned during the day and healing wear and tear on the body. However, those with sleep apnea may not reach these restorative levels of sleep as they should. This can put the brain in a constant state of exhaustion, which can make ADHD symptoms even worse.
Sleep apnea Treatment May Help with Your Symptoms
Fortunately, sleep apnea treatment may help with both sleep apnea and ADHD symptoms. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is one of the most common ways to treat sleep apnea. This involves using a device that helps keep your airways open and unobstructed while you sleep using air. Treating sleep apnea can improve the amount of rest you get each night. In turn, this can also help reduce the severity of ADHD symptoms for some people. For instance, if you have both ADHD and sleep apnea, using a CPAP device may help you focus better during the day and reduce daytime sleepiness. Some people may even need fewer stimulants for their ADHD after beginning sleep apnea treatment. Therefore, if you think you have sleep apnea, consider taking a home sleep test to determine if you might benefit from treatment.
Low T Center – Your Trusted Sleep apnea Clinic
Our team at Low T Center is here to help you feel your best and get a better night’s sleep. We offer comprehensive health services, including sleep apnea diagnosis, treatment, and treatment optimization. We even provide sleep apnea treatment devices so you can get treatment all under one roof. Whether you need an annual physical or need help understanding your symptoms, we are here for you. Make an appointment today at a location near you to discuss your health with our providers.
Disclaimer: This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Low T Center. You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.