ADHD is a neurological condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Three subtypes of ADHD generally are recognized by professionals:
- hyperactive-impulsive (the child does not show significant inattention)
- inattentive (the child does not show significant hyperactive-impulsive behavior — previously called ADD); and
- combined (the child who displays both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive behavior).
Children who are anxious or depressed, are sensitive to sugar, or are sleep-deprived also may display attention problems, poor impulse control and hyperactivity. In the July/August 2003 issue of Psychology Today, a Brown University study suggests “sleep deprivation in normal children can lead to symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
Researchers found that several days of sleep deprivation resulted in the development of ADHD symptoms, and that children’s hyperactivity levels escalated with each additional night of poor sleep. The sleep deprivation may be due to sleep apnea, allergies, asthma, circadian rhythm disorder or restless legs syndrome. Not only are children at serious risk of being misdiagnosed as ADHD, if their sleep or health problem remains undetected, their health can be jeopardized.
Research shows a clear link between sleep and school performance but many teachers and schools are slow to get the message. Teachers often are unaware that a lack of sleep is keeping many of their students from being able to concentrate at school and jump to the conclusion that a child has a learning problem or ADHD. Sleep deprivation generally is overlooked by school psychologists who fail to take it into account when making their assessments.
Sleep problems associated with ADHD include:
- Difficulty relaxing and falling asleep
- Restless legs syndrome
- Sensory processing deficits (may be overly sensitive to stimulation, sounds, light, clothing, blankets)
- Motor restlessness
- Night awakenings
- Bed wetting
- Sleep apnea
Children with ADHD usually respond well to relaxation techniques practiced at least twice a day. Adequate exercise also is important.
If you suspect that medication is interfering with your child’s sleep, meet with your physician to discuss adjusting it. Be aware that stimulant medications such as Cylert, Ritalin, Dexedrine and Adderall may make it difficult for a child to fall asleep at night, especially if they’re taken in the late afternoon.