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  • Writer's pictureCAFF Team


Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are among the most common diagnoses. There are times, however, when signs such as impulsivity and attention problems might be caused by sleep problems.

Sleep apnea in children is becoming more and more prevalent. It is estimated that 10-20% of children have a nighttime breathing disorder, which includes sleep apnea. Unfortunately, an estimated 90% are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which the muscles at the back of the throat intermittently relax too much, partially or completely blocking the airway.

To help further explain and explore the condition, we have pulled an excerpt from The Dental Diet by Dr. Steven Lin. This book is on the CAFF Recommended Reading List and can be purchased on

Sleeping disorders in children

This is an excerpt from Steven Lin's book on dental and physical health and how sleeping can affect both:

Around 25% of all children experience some type of sleep problem, and around 12% present snoring and sleep apnea. In contrast, sleep complaints in children with ADHD have been reported in 55% of cases. Children undergoing evaluation for ADHD should routinely be screened for sleep disorders.

A lack of sleep can damage brain neurons, particularly in the prefrontal cortex region. This may be due to a decrease in oxygen and an increase in carbon dioxide levels, interference with sleep's restorative processes, and disruption in the balance of cellular and chemical systems. Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity --- the classic trademarks of ADHD --- can result.

If there is a misdiagnosis of ADHD, this can be problematic when one considers the fact that medications used to treat ADHD, like Ritalin, are stimulants and can cause insomnia. In some countries, a child cannot be prescribed medication for ADHD until their breathing at night has been assessed. Suffice it to say, snoring is not harmless in children.


Blocked or impacted airways can lead to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in children. This is becoming a more common condition in children and, if left untreated or diagnosed, can lead to complications such as ADHD, anxiety and depression, heart issues, and hypoxic brain trauma.

We know how much sleep children need, but it has to be the right kind of restful sleep. In order for this to occur and for the sleep to be restorative, children need to breathe well while they sleep. The long-term impacts of children that do not receive an adequate amount of restful sleep include:

  • A diminished ability to focus and pay attention

  • Trouble receiving and processing information becomes difficult

  • Judgment becomes impaired and decision-making abilities decline

  • The body's internal synchronization processes become hampered

As with any medical condition, consult your child's pediatrician should you see any of these symptoms in your child or if you suspect your child is suffering from an airway disorder.

sleep apnea and adhd in children

You can read more about sleep-disordered breathing and sleep apnea in children on our blogs:

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