twin boys on the beach

Did you know that the symptoms of ADHD greatly overlap the symptoms of sleep apnea?

So if your child’s been diagnosed with ADHD, they may not even have it!

Certainly, there must be some guidelines for parents when it comes to spotting possible symptoms of ADHD and/or sleep apnea in their child.

ADHD and sleep apnea share numerous symptoms — you should know them.

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sleep apnea overlap quite a bit: poor concentration; irritability; impulsivity; problems organizing; difficulty keeping focused; poor school performance.

However, there are symptoms of sleep apnea that cannot possibly also be symptoms of ADHD.

They are “muscle-leg cramps, fatigue, dull headache, bed wetting (enuresis), excessive daytime sleepiness, passing out for no reason, sleep walking, unexplained stomach pain or vomiting,” says Dr. Frank Barnhill, MD, board certified family physician practicing child and adult preventative care/ADHD-behavior medicine in upstate South Carolina.

Clue that Your Child Has Sleep Apnea and not ADHD

What would be a tip-off to a parent other than the obvious (excessive sleepiness, morning headaches)?

Dr. Barnhill says, “Most parents bring their child in for one of the more obvious physical symptoms – – usually bed wetting, abdominal pain or restless sleep.”

Since sleep apnea presents with physical symptoms like morning headaches and falling asleep a lot, how is it that the misdiagnosis of this as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is so prevalent?

Don’t parents report to their doctors that Johnny keeps falling asleep in class; Johnny snores; etc.?

“No… they don’t,” says Dr. Barnhill. “Most of the time parents don’t know whether or not their child snores, or since the father does it, they just chalk it up to ‘it runs in the family.’ Sometimes the same occurs with bed wetting, as many fathers of bed wetting kids also wet the bed until age 15-16.

“Also, teachers tend to overlook sleepiness or misinterpret it as the inattentive part of ADHD.

“That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, Mistaken for ADHD, to educate teachers and other educators to look for all of these other things that are not indicative of ADHD.”

There is no current data regarding how prevalent the misdiagnosis of childhood ADHD for sleep apnea really is.

Though the symptoms of ADHD and sleep apnea overlap considerably, the treatment modalities for these conditions vary significantly.

Evidence is mounting that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in many cases, can be strongly linked to ingestion of pesticides.

On the other hand, ADHD behavior can be definitively traced to family dynamics; I have witnessed the latter with my own nephew and nieces.

In practice for 30+ years, Dr. Barnhill is the author of “Mistaken for ADHD.” He has additional training in Infant, child and adolescent medicine, urgent and emergent medicine, and gerontology.
Source: Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright, and Marc G. Weisskopf. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides. Pediatrics, 2010; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3058