Sleep Disorders, Attention Problems Linked
Attention Deficit Disorder Seen in Patients With Sleep Disorders
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 25, 2004 -- Sleep disorders are associated with numerous health
consequences, now a new study shows that a link may exist between sleep
difficulties and attention deficit disorder in adults.
People with sleep disorders may also have mood disorders, neuromuscular
diseases, and other problems, according to Clifford Risk, MD, PhD, director of
the Marlborough Center for Sleep Disorders in Marlborough, Mass.
Approximately 30 million Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. The
most common complaints are loud snoring, disrupted sleep, and excess daytime
Obstructive sleep apnea causes repetitive blockage of the airways during
sleep. The muscles that keep the airways open collapse and air cannot get to
the lungs. Medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood
pressure, and diabetes are associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking is
also linked to this sleeping disorder.
The researchers studied 34 people with obstructive sleep apnea. Nearly half
of the group (16 people) showed signs of possible or probable attention deficit
All the participants were then given continuous positive airway pressure
(CPAP), the most widely used treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
CPAP uses a machine that delivers forced air through a mask over the nose
(and sometimes also the mouth) to keep the airway open.
After CPAP treatments, the participants' daytime sleepiness score improved.
Average scores dropped from a 12 to around 3 on a scale of 0-24, with 24 being
the most severe rating. The same group reported improvement in attention
deficit scores from 17 to a score of 10, a significant change according to the
In addition, nine of the 16 patients with possible or probable attention
deficit disorder, based on having moderate to severe attention deficits scores,
improved their attention scores after CPAP.
In an interview with WebMD, Risk says sleep apnea is "highly
correlated" with attention deficit disorder and that treating apnea can
improve attention deficit. However, some apnea patients may continue to have
attention deficit problems after CPAP due to "anxiety, depression, or other
disorders," he says.
Risk and colleagues also studied smaller groups of people with insomnia.
"For those with severe insomnia, we found a high prevalence of anxiety,
depression, and neuromuscular disease, such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia,
and neurological disorders," he says.
In a small study of six to eight adolescents, Risk found that insomnia was
sometimes accompanied by learning disorders, anxiety disorders, and attention
Sleep disorders and other health problems can go hand in hand.
"Insomnia can be due to anxiety, depression, learning disorders, and
neuromuscular diseases," says Risk. "It's also the Holy Grail for
getting them better."
Risk presented his findings in Seattle at CHEST 2004, a meeting of the
American College of Chest Physicians.
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