Cartoon image of a worried character with pink hair under the bold text 'ADHD & Sleep Apnea', with the artist's handle @the_mini_ADHD_coach at the bottom.

What's the Link Between ADHD & Sleep Apnea?

There’s a significant connection between ADHD and sleep apnea. While initially appearing unrelated, ADHD can contribute to sleep disturbances, potentially leading to conditions like sleep apnea. Understanding this connection is crucial for effective management and improved quality of life for individuals with ADHD.

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Tayler Hackett

TMAC Editorial Manager & Trainee Psychotherapist

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A word form our expert

Is Your ADHD Keeping You Awake at Night?

Do you often find yourself struggling to get a good night's sleep despite your best efforts? Have you ever wondered if there's a connection between your ADHD symptoms and your sleep quality? I know I go through phases of consistently bad sleep and it’s so frustrating because I love sleep. 

Today, we’re looking specifically at the relationship between ADHD and sleep apnea, where your breathing stops and starts as you sleep. 

We’ll dive into:

  • The link between ADHD and sleep disorders in general.
  • Common sleep disorders associated with ADHD.
  • What sleep apnea is and its symptoms.
  • The different and overlapping symptoms of ADHD and sleep apnea.
  • How to seek diagnosis and treatment for the condition.

Get ready to learn about sleep apnea and uncover the secrets behind your ADHD sleep struggles.

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

If you’re anything like me, you may have wondered why you’re always so tired. Yes, combined type ADHD (which I have) does come with hyperactivity, and that’s exhausting, but it’s not the full story. 

But the answer is both simpler and more complex than that: you need more or a better night’s sleep. 

Easier said than done, right?

Unfortunately, many Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms, like the previously mentioned hyperactivity and racing thoughts that come with it, can affect our sleep quality and sleep schedule. These make it hard for some adults with ADHD to maintain their sleeping habits and instead cycle through different sleep patterns and inconsistency.

Even when I get eight hours (or more) and think I’ve slept long enough, I still experience daytime fatigue. It’s not the time spent asleep, or even the pattern - it’s the poor sleep quality. 

This isn’t uncommon. Research has found a direct connection between ADHD and sleep problems. In fact, 25% to 50% of ADHD patients in a sleep study experienced difficulties sleeping. 

To make things more difficult, lack of sleep often aggravates or makes common ADHD symptoms worse, like difficulty concentrating or focusing on assigned tasks. The stress of this can reduce sleep quality further, creating a cycle that can result in more serious sleep disorders. 

You Asked Us…

Why do people with ADHD struggle to sleep?

People with ADHD often struggle with sleep due to hyperactivity, anxiety, and trouble focusing at night. This can disrupt restorative sleep, making it hard to fall and stay asleep.

Illustration showing two smiling round characters labeled 'ADHD' and 'SLEEP DISORDERS' holding hands, with the caption 'ADHD and sleep issues often go hand in hand' above them.

Common Sleep Disorders Associated with ADHD

While we’re focusing on sleep apnea today, it’s important to be aware that many different sleep disorders can be comorbid with ADHD. Let’s take some time to understand each so we can lower the risk of developing them. Plus, you might find that you’re actually experiencing one of these, rather than sleep apnea.

Insomnia: Can’t Get to Sleep

Insomnia is a sleep disorder where you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good-quality sleep. When you have insomnia, you may toss and turn in your bed, wake up frequently, or get a full 7 to 9 hours of sleep and still feel tired in the morning because of poor sleep quality. 

Narcolepsy: Can’t Stay Awake

Narcolepsy can sometimes be considered by others as the opposite of insomnia, but it’s not that simple

Those who are diagnosed with narcolepsy may not be able to control their urge to sleep, causing them to fall asleep during the day in sudden attacks of sleep, even after a good night’s sleep. Not only can this sleep disorder cause issues in your daily activities, and worsen symptoms of ADHD, but in certain environments and situations (like driving), it can put you at serious risk.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder: Can’t Get the Timing Right

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder is a sleep disruption condition where a person's internal body clock isn’t synced with their environment. This can cause daytime sleepiness even when there are things to do, or give a sudden burst of energy, urging you to stay awake, even at bedtime.

It’s similar to jet lag but without the travel (and fun of going on holiday). 

Restless Legs Syndrome: Can’t Lay Still

Do you ever lay in bed, but feel like you just have to move your legs? That could be restless legs syndrome (it could also be hyperactivity). Restless legs syndrome is the compulsive need to move your legs. It typically happens late in the afternoon or the evening and can cause discomfort in your legs, toes, arms, and chest. 

It may be accompanied by a tingling sensation or general aching, making it hard for you to fall asleep.

Colorful illustration listing 'The five sleep disorders found most often in people with ADHD are: Insomnia, Narcolepsy, Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep Apnea, Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder', with visual representations of each disorder.

You Asked Us…

What sleep disorders are related to ADHD?

ADHD is associated with several sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders, leading to significant sleep disruption.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is one of the more common sleep disorders for people with ADHD. Sleep Apnea is where your breathing stops or becomes shallow and disrupted while you sleep. This sleep-disordered breathing can cause loud snoring, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, and even headaches when you wake up.

Graphic showing the Earth with 'WORLDWIDE, over 400 million people suffer from sleep apnea' as the central message, with icons indicating people with sleep apnea connected to the globe.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition where the breathing becomes blocked or restricted during sleep because the muscle structure supporting our throat soft tissues gets too relaxed. 

This can be dangerous as oxygen levels in the blood can drop, potentially increasing the risk for severe issues, like heart attack, stroke, and other health risks.

When our body receives the signal that it's not getting enough oxygen, our brain will wake us up abruptly. This can be highly disruptive to our sleep and makes it hard to get a restful night of sleep.

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You Asked Us…

How common is sleep apnea in ADHD?

Sleep apnea is notably more common in people with ADHD, with studies suggesting a higher risk compared to the general population. It affects both children and adults with ADHD.

Cartoon depicting two characters in bed with text saying 'SLEEP APNEA causes you to stop breathing or breathe shallowly throughout the night', one character is asking 'Are you ok?!' to another labeled 'NOT BREATHING'.

Research shows that sleep apnea may be influenced by diet and lifestyle choices, such as lack of regular exercise,  unhealthy eating habits, alcohol consumption, and smoking. A poor sleeping pattern can also contribute to developing OSA. 

To reduce the chances of suffering from OSA or any other sleep-related condition, we need to start prioritizing healthy lifestyle choices and habits.

The Overlap Between ADHD and Sleep Apnea

For sleep apnea sufferers the symptoms of sleep deprivation or tiredness can be pretty similar to common ADHD symptoms. 

Daytime sleepiness, or feeling tired during the day (even after the recommended amount of sleep) is something people with ADHD experience, usually due to their hyperactive symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, hyperactivity doesn’t mean we’re ‘always on’. That energy spent has a cost. 

Irritability is another of the many ADHD symptoms that can affect us, just as the effects of sleep apnea would. ADHD can cause irritability for many reasons, including emotional dysregulation or sensory overload. 

With sleep apnea, not getting enough sleep (because we randomly stop breathing), can also lead to us feeling more agitated and aggravated than usual. Often, for those experiencing both conditions, the irritability is much worse.

Difficulty concentrating is another common adult ADHD symptom that can also occur from the lack of sleep that sleep apnea can cause. As I’m sure we’ve all experienced, when you’re tired, it’s far more difficult to focus on anything.

These symptoms can all have a negative impact on your quality of life, relationships, and school or work performance, so it’s important to seek support.

Image of a concerned character with pink hair speaking to a health professional with text suggesting 'It's important to be checked by a health professional if you think you could suffer from sleep apnea', emphasizing the link between ADHD and sleep apnea

Correlation vs. Individual Experience

Although research shows there's a pretty strong link between ADHD and various sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and insomnia, this doesn't mean every person with ADHD will face these sleep issues.

Everyone's experience with ADHD is unique, including how it affects their sleep. Some of us might struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, while others might not have any sleep problems at all. It's important to recognize this diversity in experiences because it helps us provide the proper support and set realistic expectations. 

Understanding that the ADHD-sleep relationship can vary greatly from one person to another is key to navigating this complex topic. 👌

You Asked Us…

Is snoring a link to ADHD?

Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a disorder linked to ADHD. It's important for individuals with ADHD and persistent snoring to consult a sleep medicine specialist.

Seeking Diagnosis and Treatment

As you can imagine, after reading how similar the symptoms of ADHD and sleep apnea can be, diagnosis can be tricky

If your ADHD symptoms are primarily those that are also caused by sleep problems, you may receive a misdiagnosis, as sleep apnea can mask ADHD.

On the other hand, there is the potential possibility that you don’t have ADHD, but exhibit similar symptoms from sleep apnea or similar sleep disorders. 

This is why booking an appointment with a health professional should be your first step in determining whether your condition is ADHD or untreated sleep apnea.

It's important to get the proper ADHD or sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment for both conditions as they can be managed with lifestyle changes, medications, or device-assisted therapies.

ADHD symptoms can be treated with stimulant medication or behavior therapy, 

Sleep apnea treatment includes methods such as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. The machine continuously delivers oxygenated air into your airways through a tube and mask. 

If you struggle with sleep problems or excessive daytime sleepiness, it's essential to speak to your doctor about the possibility of having a sleep disorder. Treating any underlying conditions can help improve your overall quality of life and help reduce the symptoms associated with ADHD and sleep apnea.

Key Takeaways

  • ADHD symptoms can disrupt sleep patterns and quality, even contributing to the development of sleep disorders, which exacerbate ADHD symptoms further.
  • Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep, often resulting in loud snoring, daytime tiredness, and headaches upon waking.
  • Symptoms of sleep apnea, such as daytime fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, can overlap with ADHD symptoms, making diagnosis challenging.
  • Professional diagnosis is essential to differentiate between ADHD and sleep apnea, as symptoms can be similar.
  • Treatment options for ADHD may include stimulant medication or behavior therapy, while sleep apnea treatment often involves Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines.

Don't let your sleep struggles go unnoticed! Whether you suspect ADHD, sleep apnea, or both, seeking professional evaluation and treatment can significantly improve your quality of life, and help you get the good night’s sleep you deserve.

What’s Next?

Experiencing sleep problems, but not sure if it’s sleep apnea? Here’s what you should read next:

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does ADHD cause sleep apnea?

There’s no direct relationship between ADHD and sleep apnea. However, some ADHD symptoms may contribute to some of the factors that may increase your risk for sleep apnea. For instance, you may drink alcohol excessively and smoke (known risk factors for sleep apnea) due to your impulsivity or as a way to relieve the struggles you have with ADHD.

Can ADHD give you sleeping problems?

Some reports indicate that up to half of the population of people with ADHD also have sleep troubles. The exact connection is unknown, but symptoms may contribute. For example, being hyperactive at night may produce difficulty sleeping.

Does Adderall help with sleep apnea?

No, Adderall does not directly treat sleep apnea; it is a stimulant medication primarily used to manage ADHD symptoms, and it does not address the underlying breathing issues associated with sleep apnea or work as sleep apnea treatment.

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