The number of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has risen 42% in the past 10 years. These findings were reported online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Currently, 11% of children in the United states have a diagnosis of ADHD. In addition, 6% of all 4 to 17 year olds (3.5 million children) in this country are reported by their parents to be taking medication for ADHD, which is a 28% increase from 2008 to 2012.
What’s more frightening than these statistics is that the real incidence of hyperactively and behavior problems probably goes underreported and under-diagnosed. What frustrates me every time I hear or read about this epidemic is that sleep is almost never mentioned as a major possible cause of this condition. Sometimes, good sleep hygiene is mentioned, but only rarely is the possibility of an underlying sleep-related breathing disorder ever addressed.
In a past study, 28% of children scheduled to undergo routine tonsillectomy were found to have ADHD. After tonsillectomy, 50% were cured of their ADHD diagnosis.
ADHD has many different causes and it’s likely that there are multiple factors that add up to produce symptoms in a child, but poor sleep due to any reason can definitely affect memory, focus and attention. Not breathing well during sleep with lack of oxygen to the brain can make things even worse.
It’s also not too coincidental that the estimated rate of snoring for children in this country is about 10%. Another study showed that the presence of snoring in young children predicted behavior problems in later school years. We know that a significant number of people who snore have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea. We also know that snoring without obstructive sleep apnea can still significantly affect sleep, with increased risk of attention problems, car accidents, and even stroke in adults.
Given all the evidence, it’s important to at least screen for obstructive sleep apnea in any child with a new diagnosis of ADHD.