ADHD News & Research

What If Sleep Apnea Is to Blame?

Inattention and hyperactivity are hallmarks of ADHD, but what if another disorder is causing those symptoms and ADHD sleep problems? A new test aims to find out.

October 3, 2014

Here’s the rub: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes fatigue, hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and distractibility in kids. (Those symptoms sound familiar, don’t they?) OSA is also currently cumbersome and expensive to diagnose, so most children are never tested for it. Now, a company called NuSomnea is aiming to fix that with a new product called the Easy Peezy Pee Test, which identifies four key proteins in a child’s urine that are linked to pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

OSA is a serious disorder that causes your breathing to stop — and, along with it, your oxygen — several times during the night. The breathing pauses are short, but they add up; left undiagnosed, OSA can trigger obesity, diabetes, anxiety and depression. Once detected, it is often treated with tonsil and adenoid surgery. Diagnosing it today requires an overnight sleep study involving wires and beeping machines; it’s expensive, inconvenient, scary, and rarely pursued.

Yet NuSomnea claims that 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD show behavior and symptom improvement after being treated for OSA. NuSomnea suggests that up to 7 million children diagnosed with ADHD may actually have sleep apnea. So far, however, the company has only tested 120 children in a clinical study that proved 96 percent accurate in diagnosing OSA. Now, the company is looking to raise $100,000 to finish the assay development for Easy Peezy and conduct a validation study. NuSomnea has raised $32,000+ on Indiegogo so far with 44 days left in its campaign.

Interest in the Indiegogo campaign was bolstered this week by discouraging news from the manufacturers of sleep medications for children. Previous studies showed that zolpidem doesn’t help kids with ADHD sleep better or longer, and this week we learned that a second drug, eszopiclone, is no more effective than placebo in treating sleep problems in ADHD kids. In a 12-week study of 486 children and adolescents, the drug was found ineffectual for pediatric insomnia. There was no significant difference in sleep between the group taking the medications, and the control group. The researchers don’t rule out the impact of ADHD stimulants on the study participant’s sleep.

So what’s a parent to do when sleepless nights destroy the peace in the household? Dr. Jeanne Gehret and Dr. Patricia Quinn recommend the value of exercise. Physical activity, they say, places stress on the body, which in turn, “increases the time a child spends in deep sleep.” They also suggest nighttime routines like set bedtimes or activities, and keeping bedrooms dark. Other parent-approved sleep solutions include wearing warm socks to bed or drinking Sleepytime Tea. And if NuSomnea’s Indiegogo campaign proves a success, you may soon be able to test your child for sleep apnea from his very own bathroom — and get answers within the week.

Updated on April 6, 2017

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  1. Does anyone have suggestions for the best route to establishing whether sleep apnea or ADHD is causing tiredness during the day? I have confirmed apnea, but wondering if others have suffered from both and what effective treatment has been identified. I’m still tired during the day and never feel fully rested. Any tips welcome! Thanks

  2. I just had a dentist visit yesterday where I became aware for the first time of a connection of ADHD / ADD and sleep apnea. This was my 2nd visit to this new dentist as a follow-up to an emergency extraction. Since it was an emergency and she had other patients scheduled, she said the next visit would be more in depth.

    Got diagnosed with ADHD in the last week and was prescribed Vyvanse. I told the dentist about the dry mouth symptoms I was having due to the Vyvanse and another prescribed med, and why I was taking it. Based on that, she informed me of the sleep apnea / ADHD connection and more so because I had a connected condition of being afflicted with a small palate.

    I thought that was interesting because all of my life I just personally thought my tongue was bigger than my mouth and it looks like it’s the other way around. lol No medical or dental professional ever recognized it or pointed it out.

    I kinda half didn’t believe her researched ‘small palate’ while laying in the dental chair waiting on the appt. wrap up and, sure enough, Google immediately highlighted the sleep apnea connection. And then today I come across this article. Here I am in my early-ish 40’s dealing with the revelation of 3 new conditions in less than a week.

    My dentist said that I should connect with my regular doctor to set up a sleep test to confirm or deny the sleep apnea deal. In retrospect, I have had trouble getting and staying asleep way more so than not. But I just got so used to it and attributed it to too much coffee, being a night owl, current life stressors. With that, I feel like I do “skip” or “catch up on a breath” every so often.

    I will have to do the follow through and loop in my ADD doc as well. I’ve never had so many medical appointments in my life, geez.

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