Sleep and ADHD Symptoms in Children
Elisa Wetzler, Psy.D
An interesting article was published in the New York Times in April of 2012 entitled, “Attention Problems May be Sleep Related”.
This article discusses the rising epidemic of ADHD in children and suggests unidentified sleep problems contribute to attentional struggles. Sleep disorders result in sleep deprivation but children do not always respond to lack of sleep as do adults. Where adults are often sluggish and sleepy, children seem to exhibit sleep problems in the form of mood swings, poor attention, behavioral problems, and difficulty sitting still. In fact, those with sleep apnea have been found to show behavioral problems similar to those seen in ADHD. It would make sense that some children diagnosed with ADHD are showing symptoms as a direct result of an undetected sleep disorder. Treatment with medication utilized in children with ADHD can often exacerbate sleep problems and thus increase behavior and attention issues.
A fully comprehensive evaluation for trouble with attention or behavior problems may benefit from an assessment of the child’s sleep patterns. The evaluator may ask questions concerning sleep such as time to bed, time to fall asleep, amount of sleep, awakenings, snoring, nightmares or sleep terrors, and daytime fatigue. Parents are encouraged to bring up any concerns they may have regarding their child’s sleep patterns or symptoms observed of sleep disturbance. It may be helpful for parents to become educated regarding healthy versus unhealthy childhood sleep. If sleep problems are suspected, further evaluation by a sleep physician and/or sleep psychologist may be warranted.