Learning the Differences Between ADHD and Sleep Disorders

Because they have a number of overlapping symptoms, it can be easy to mistakenly believe that a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) instead of a sleep disorder. However, while the two different maladies can sometimes be interrelated, they call for very different courses of treatment. Here’s a closer look at ADHD and a variety of different sleep disorders that may be affecting your child.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is an incredibly common childhood illness that afflicts sufferers in one of three ways. The first is inattentiveness. Kids who have this type of ADHD are generally not hyperactive nor disruptive, but they are inattentive, and consequently the struggle to learn and retain new information. The second is called prominently hyperactive-impulsive, and it is the classification used for children who are very hyperactive and lack impulse control. The third and most common form of ADHD is called combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive, which is quantified by hyperactivity and a lack of attentiveness. In addition to impulsiveness and hyperactivity, the symptoms of ADHD are forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and the inability to process and recall new information.

Sleep Disorders

As the term sleep disorder refers to anything that disrupts a normal sleep pattern, a number of illnesses can be called sleep disorders. The most common types of sleep disorders that affect children are parasomniasleep apnea and resistance to settling. Parasomnia is a category of sleep disorders typified by abnormal activity, such as sleepwalking, or unusually intense dreams. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes children to stop and start breathing while they sleep. And resistance to settling refers to a situation where a child habitually refuses to settle down at bedtime. Symptoms of a sleep disorder can include snoring, a resistance to waking up, impulsiveness, irritability, difficulty waking up, clumsiness, hyperactivity, forgetfulness and difficulty learning and remembering new information.

The Connection between ADHD and Sleep Disorders

Because they share so many symptoms, many children who are actually suffering from sleep apnea have been misdiagnosed as having ADHD. Additionally, the 30% of children who suffer from both disorders can find it difficult to receive proper treatment. A hyperactive child can struggle to settle down at bedtime and sleep deprivation can cause a child to become severely forgetful and inattentive. Consequently, successfully treating a sleep disorder can have the effect of lessening the severity of a child’s ADHD symptoms.

Finding the Best Treatment for Your Child

While the most popular treatments for ADHD involve administering medicinal stimulants, like Adderall or Ritalin, these medications are not effective in treating a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. That’s why it’s important to consult with a sleep specialist to help determine the true nature of your child’s illness. If you suspect that your child may be afflicted with ADHD or a sleep disorder, contact us online or call (212) 661-7077 to set up an appointment with Dr. Shukla today. He has the skills and experience to prescribe an appropriate treatment for your child.

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