20 years ago (at age 49), like you, I was diagnosed with ADD (without hyperactivity). I spent 20 years on ADD medications, with moderate attenuation of symptoms. Just 3 years ago, I was diagnosed again, and found to have sleep apnea. After 2 months using a CPAP machine, I no longer felt the need for, and discontinued the use of, the ADD drugs (Ritalin, and Prozac for the accompanying depression). Remarkably, the symptoms for each condition are nearly identical.
Here’s what happens to those with untreated sleep apnea: the airway becomes blocked after muscle relaxation, usually (but not always) while sleeping on the back. Breathing stops. CO 2 builds up in the lungs as oxygen is depleted, which triggers the autonomous nervous system to release a jolt of adrenalin, which arouses you from sleep, just enough to start you breathing again, but not enough to bring you back to waking consciousness. People with sleep apnea almost never know they have the condition. (Ask someone who snores if they were snoring when you wake them up; they will deny it, sincerely believing that they were not snoring, as they never hear themselves snore.) Sleep Apnea has two sets of effects: those from interrupted sleep and adequate dream time, and those from the series of adrenalin “jolts.” (The snoring/breathingcessation/adrenalin cycle can recur over a hundred times a night.) As noted above, the effects of this condition mimic those of ADD.
The ADD drugs I was taking, while they helped somewhat, were only treating symptoms. The underlying cause was the sleep apnea, and once that was remedied I was transformed into a different person, with one caveat: a lifetime of negative self-perceptions has left its mark, and a concerted effort is needed to remove lifetime habits and a self-image that, once the condition is remedied, no longer applies to the “new me.”
For these reasons, I recommend that everyone who has been diagnosed with ADD (especially those without the hyperactivity component) get themselves tested for Sleep Apnea. To properly fix any problem, it’s essential to really know what’s “broken.”