Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guest Post: Sleep Apnea and "ADHD"

By Kim Bureros

It’s truly shocking how many kids today are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At one point, the United States almost acknowledged the condition as an epidemic. However recent studies have shown that the problem in some cases may be centered on parents, who believe the child to be suffering from ADHD, when, in actuality, they’re suffering from a sleeping disorder or sleep deprivation.

In the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) from 2007, they interviewed over 91,000 parents about their children and asked various questions about ADHD. From this survey, it was determined that parents assumed that 1 in every 10 kids has ADHD, making for about 5.4 million kids in the United States alone! If the parents’ diagnoses were accurate, then there has been a stark 22% increase in ADHD diagnoses since 2003.

These statistics would be more horrifying, however, if each of these parents were an ADHD expert. Nowadays, an energetic child or kinesthetic learner seems to be labeled ADHD—almost as if it’s the brand everyone turns to. However, there are many other possibilities for what’s really going on.

First of all, are parents letting their kids get enough sleep? Children respond differently to sleep deprivation than adults. Rather than become fatigued, many actually become more rambunctious if they haven’t received enough sleep, putting them in a state of delirium. This delirium can easily be misread as hyperactivity, and the sleep deprivation consequence is the inability to focus.

A lot of the recent diagnoses of ADHD in children are simply due to parents not providing strict bedtimes due to ineffective discipline, or even neglect, and letting kids stay up as late as they please. However, even if a child is sent to bed at a proper time, if they’ve been playing on their phones, with video games, or in front of the computer, they’ll actually be in a heightened state of excitement, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep at night. 

Additionally, letting a child fall asleep in front of artificial light—as from a TV screen—can actually inhibit a child’s sleep cycle because their body will have difficulty differentiating between day and night. All these factors and bad habits are training the child’s body to be confused about when to be awake and when to sleep.

Of course, the worst - and not uncommon - scenario is prescribing a child with ADHD medication (Ritalin, Adderall, etc.) when they don’t actually suffer from the condition. Ritalin and Adderall for instance, are stimulants, and if a child is unable to fall asleep this will grievously affect their sleeping ability. 

It’s also not unheard of for kids to suffer sleep disorders, and a child may not understand that they are not getting enough sleep —which is more common than you think. If a child is suffering from insomnia, then the added ADHD stimulant medication will only worsen the child’s condition—sadly, most parents then decide to “up” the prescription.

This is increasingly dangerous as studies and reports are showing that ADHD medication can actually have adverse effects on boys and girls entering puberty.

Another common cause of sleep deprivation is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is the result of the tissue at the back of the throat relaxing too much, and thus constricting breathing. This can result in snoring, but often does not. People suffering from sleep apnea are not getting enough oxygen and have brief periods where they stop breathing altogether. 

Although the sudden halts in breathing only happen for 3-5 seconds, these may happen hundreds of times throughout the night. The result is the brain and body cannot regenerate cells, and people never achieve the most restorative part of sleep: their REM cycle. This results in excessive sleep deprivation, which makes a child unable to focus, be hyperactive, and unresponsive—also key determinants for an ADHD diagnosis.

Sleep specialists determined that 90% of people suffering from sleep apnea go undiagnosed. Since most people are not aware that they have it, key indicators they should look for are: family history of hypertension or heart disease, snoring, drowsiness during the day, obesity, or depression and anxiety (for more information visit for details). Most parents, however, would rather prescribe medication than spend one night in a sleep lab. And many pediatricians and doctors are only recently asking about sleeping habits as a factor in health.

ADHD should not be the go-to problem for parents. If your child is acting up, take a step back and see if you’re allowing them to stay up too late or stay up in front of a television. If they’re getting enough sleep, make sure its quality sleep. It is better to spend one night monitoring your child than having them spend a lifetime on “corrective” pills. 


The author: Kim Bureros is a Copywriter for She has extensive experience with writing, blogging, and internet marketing and has concentrated on medical copywriting for the past few years. She firmly believes that “building relationships is the key to success.”


  1. Dr. Allen,

    As one who feels that several years of undiagnosed sleep apnea may have caused me to spend many unnecessary years on psych meds, I thank you profusely for publishing this article by Ms. Bureros. In all fairness, I can't blame anyone since I never complained about being tired and simply thought what I was experiencing was normal. But I am greatly concerned that not only are children continuing to be misdiagnosed with ADHD when they have sleep apnea, adults are also and additionally are getting other bogus labels. In fact, one person posted on an apnea board that she/he was misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder when it turned out this person had severe apnea. Based on what you have posted previously regarding BP being overdiagnosed, I am sure you aren't surprised.

    Unfortunately, I am struggling greatly with pap therapy which is a whole other post. But at least I finally understand what the true source of my difficulties were.

  2. Sleep disorders are the underlying cause for MANY so-called psychiatric disorders -

    More root causes here -