From Restless Nights to Restful Sleep: How Treating Sleep Apnoea Can Improve Your Child’s Life

Apr 4, 2023

By Caitlin Snowdon – Speech and Language Therapist

Does your child struggle to concentrate, self-regulate, stay motivated, manage fatigue, and exhibit impulsivity? You might be thinking that your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but have you considered sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea and ADHD have a lot of overlapping symptoms in children. In fact, if your child:

  • Grinds their teeth when they sleep;
  • Wakes up during the night;
  • Wakes up tired;
  • Snores (even a little bit);
  • Has a history of allergies or upper respiratory concerns;
  • Breathes with their mouth open; or
  • Was late to toilet training…

They may be suffering from sleep apnoea! If you nodded your head to a few of these, then keep reading.

Why Speech Pathology?

Well, common concerns that are typically seen by a speech pathologist, such as lisps, delayed speech due to ear infections, and difficulties with teeth, are all commonly associated with sleep disordered breathing.

This is because the way that we breathe impacts the way our oral structures develop and function. For example, an open mouth breather often has their tongue sticking out and forwards past the teeth, which often leads to lisps, protruding and crowded teeth.

Sleep apnoea occurs when breathing repeatedly stops and restarts, resulting in a reduction of oxygen available to the brain and preventing deep sleep. Airway obstruction is even more likely if there are pre-existing respiratory difficulties, such as enlarged adenoids or tonsils!

Research shows that daytime sleepiness affects both attention performance and inhibition performance (impulsivity). Attentional deficits have been reported in up to 95% of obstructive sleep apnoea patients, and up to 20-30% of those diagnosed with ADHD have been found to have obstructive sleep apnoea. Interestingly, studies focusing on sleep apnoea interventions have found an improvement in behaviour, inattention, and overall ADHD.

If you are thinking about an ADHD assessment, it may be worth speaking to a speech pathologist first to review your oral facial functioning and structures. A referral to an Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist may also be helpful before commencing an ADHD assessment.

Sleep is Essential for Optimum Functioning

It is an obvious statement when said aloud, but deeper consideration highlights the importance of investigating sleep when we are not working at our best.

If you have concerns about your child’s attention and concentration, please reach out to to book an initial consult with a speech pathologist.