Sleep Apnea, ADHD

Children with ADHD are 5 times more likely to have ADHD, 7 times more likely to have learning problems, three times as likely to have a school grade average of C or lower.

In a study led by Dr. Michelle Perfect of the University of Arizona in Tucson found an association between obstructive sleep apnea (a common form of sleep-disordered breathing) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

This study provides some helpful information for medical professionals consulting with parents about treatment options for children with SDB that, although it may remit, there are considerable behavioral risks associated with continued SDB, said Dr. Perfect. School personnel should also consider the possibility that SDB contributes to difficulties with hyperactivity, learning and behavioral and emotional dysregulation in the classroom.

The study, which took over five years to complete, utilized data from the Tucson Children’s Assessment of Sleep Apnea Study (TuCASA). TuCASA, in turn, examined Caucasian and Hispanic children between the ages of 6 and 11 years in order to accurately determine the prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing and its effects on neurobehavior and function. Involving over 250 children, all of whom completed a myriad of neurobehavioral tests and assessments, including an overnight sleep study.

Findings from the study indicated that of the original amount of children, 23 had incident sleep apnea develop over the course of the study, 21 had persistent sleep apnea, while 41 children who initially had sleep apnea had resolved it by the 5 year follow up.

What Are the Odds?

When these children were also analyzed for behavioral problems, the results were striking – the odds of having ADHD was between four and five times higher in those who had sleep apnea. Children with sleep apnea were also seven times more likely to have learning problems (parent reported) and three times as likely to have a school grade average of C or lower.

According to the study’s authors, this is the first sleep-related study to employ a standardized questionnaire to assess youth with and without sleep apnea over a set period of time.

Even though SDB appears to decline into adolescence, taking a wait and see approach is risky and families and clinicians alike should identify potential treatments, said Perfect.


Sleep apnea occurs in approximately two percent of children. They tend to have larger tonsils and adenoids then other children of a similar age and usually have a history of snoring.  Luckily, effective treatment options are available to treat sleep apnea in children and the results have direct carry over in their ability to relieve ADHD symptoms.

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