Researchers Discover Link Between Sleep Apnea And ADHD In Children

A recent study examining the link between sleep disorders and learning disabilities shows that children with sleep disorders are more than five times more likely to be diagnosed with learning and behavioral difficulties.  The five year study focused on 6 to 11 year old Caucasian and Hispanic students, and found that sleep disorders also increased problems in the arenas of “hyperactivity, attention, disruptive behaviors, communication, social competency and self-care.”  Read on for the full story. 

ADHD and sleep


Children who suffer from one common type of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) are more likely to suffer from ADHD and other adaptive and learning problems, according to a new study appearing in the April edition of the journal SLEEP.

The five-year study utilized data from the Tucson Children’s Assessment of Sleep Apnea Study (TuCASA) — an analysis which examined the prevalence and incidence of SDB and its neurobehavioral impact on six to 11 year old Caucasian and Hispanic children – to determine that children with different types of sleep apnea were more likely to have behavioral problems.

The TuCASA study involved 263 children, each of whom completed both an overnight sleep analysis and a battery of neurobehavioral assessments, including both self-reported and parental rating scales.

The study showed that 23 of those children had incident sleep apnea which developed during the study period, 21 children suffered from persistent sleep apnea during the course of the entire study, and that 41 youngsters originally had sleep apnea but were no longer suffering from breathing problems during sleep by the five-year follow-up.

The researchers reported that children with incident sleep apnea were four to five times more likely to have behavior problems, while those with persistent sleep apnea were six times more likely to have such issues.

In addition, compared to children who had never suffered from SDB, parents of youngsters with sleep apnea were more likely to report that their kids had issues in the areas of hyperactivity, attention, disruptive behaviors, communication, social competency and self-care.

Children with persistent sleep apnea were also reportedly seven times more likely to have parent-reported learning difficulties, and three times more likely to have average or below-average grades at school (C or lower on a letter-grade scale).

“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,” Michelle Perfect, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the school psychology program at the University of Arizona’s department of disability and psychoeducational studies, said in a statement.

“School personnel should also consider the possibility that SDB contributes to difficulties with hyperactivity, learning and behavioral and emotional dysregulation in the classroom,” she added. “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.”

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