ADHD and Sleep

ADHD and Sleep ProblemsADHD and Sleep Disorders – Making the Connection

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition marked by hyperactivity and sometimes impulsive behavior and difficulty paying attention. It often starts in a person’s childhood and can continue into adulthood.

According to the CDC, nearly 10% of kids between 4 and 17 years of age are diagnosed with ADHD (or around 5.4 million as of 2007).  Boys tend to be more than two times as likely as girls to get diagnosed with ADHD.  About two-thirds of kids diagnosed with ADHD take medication to manage the condition.

Why is ADHD Diagnosis on the Rise?

Rates of ADHD have increased significantly in recent years from around 1% of children in the 1970s to 3 to 5% in the 1980s. Today, it is almost double that figure. The exact reason for the increase is controversial. Here are a few possible reasons why ADHD diagnosis is on the rise:

-          Increased Awareness: Certainly greater awareness of ADHD among teachers, parents, mental health counselors, psychiatrists, and others may explain some of the increase.

-          Genetics: Some of the latest research identifies a genetic connection to ADHD. According to British scientists, kids with ADHD are more likely to have additional or missing DNA.

-          Certain Foods: Some researchers speculate that certain types of foods are to blame for increases in ADHD.  For example, there is evidence to connect artificial coloring to ADHD. Too much sugar and not enough protein have also been implicated.

-          Technology Usage: The rise of ADHD has been linked to the use of technology.  Smart phones, video games, TV watching, computers, and the use of other technological devices may play a role in the development of ADHD.

ADHD and Sleep – What’s the Connection?

While awareness of the hyperactive behavioral aspect of ADHD is commonplace, more recently scientists are considering the link between ADHD and sleep problems.

Sleep problems don’t happen to everyone who has ADHD but it is common for those with the condition. Scientists looking at the connection between ADHD and sleep often focus on brain mechanisms that relate to attention, arousal, and fatigue.

Some parents notice that their kids with ADHD feel tired after waking up in the morning or that they had a lot of bad dreams.  Others notice that their child experiences excessive drowsiness during the daytime.

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Vatsal Thakkar makes the connection between the symptoms of sleep disorders and ADHD.  Both conditions include symptoms like forgetfulness, lack of organization, and an inability to sit still.

Studies using video monitoring and polysomnography of children with ADHD have shown an increase in sleep latency, a decrease in rapid eye movement percentages, and an increase in nighttime activity. Sleep disordered breathing, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome are also more prevalent in kids with ADHD.

Addressing Sleep Problems in Kids with ADHD

Noting the link between sleep problems and ADHD, Australian researchers led by Valerie Sung and colleagues have suggested that focusing on sleep management strategies in tandem with ADHD treatment can reduce negative outcomes of ADHD. For some this may even lead to a reduction in the need for medication.

For parents with kids struggling with ADHD and sleep problems, exploring the possible benefits of sleep management may be worthwhile.

Here are a few suggestions to help your child experience better sleep.

  • -   Feed your children smaller meals in the evening and avoid caffeine and extra sugar.
  • -   Create a relaxing and less stimulating environment after dinner to prepare for sleep.
  • -   Establish a schedule with predictable and enjoyable bedtime rituals.
  • -   Limit electronics including TV, video games, and music at least one hour before bedtime.

For more sleep tips and related information, stay in touch on our sleep blog!