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Sleep Problems or ADHD?

by Angie Schlauch
(Rock Hill, SC)

My 6 year old son falls asleep easily at night, but is very difficult to wake in the morning. He averages over 10 hours of sleep at night, but often is grumpy and very tired when woken up for school. He frequently complains of headaches when he wakes and at other times during the day.

His father has sleep apnea and uses a C-PAP machine. It has been very helpful for him.

My son has had difficulty in school with implusivity and inattention at school for the past 2 years. He is a little above grade level in reading and math (I am a teacher and do a lot of work with him at home as well). We are working with his teacher to develop a behavior plan at school. I want to rule out other problems before we consider an ADHD diagnosis. I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions you have for us. Thanks!

Angie Schlauch

Kevin: Hi Angie, Thank you for sharing your story. Indeed, sleep apnea in children can often manifest itself in ADHD-like hyperactivity or difficulty keeping attention. It disturbs sleep quality such that even with 10 hours of sleep one does not feel rested during the day, as I imagine you know from your husband's experience, and a tired mind has trouble paying attention to any one task. Because ADHD is much better known by doctors than sleep apnea, the behavioral symptoms that are actually a result of the sleep disorder get frequently misdiagnosed as the hyperactivity disorder.

If you watch your son sleep in the middle of the night, do you notice him having any trouble breathing? Even if there is no snoring, there could still be obstructed breathing. Snoring or gasping though makes it a much more obvious symptom.

Other things you can do to check on the possibility of his breathing being disruptive at night include looking inside his mouth to gauge the size of his tonsils. Large tonsils are one of the leading causes of sleep apnea in children.

All the best, and do feel free to update your son's status or ask any further questions using the "post comments" link below.


(Please keep in mind that I am a student of sleep science and not a medical doctor. Please take any thoughts I give with my background in mind.)

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