Too Tired To Pay Attention

Treating sleep disorders may help ADHD adults and children. Here's how.


Filed Under: Side Effects of ADHD Meds, ADHD Sleep Advice, Comorbid Conditions with ADD
Too Tired To Pay Attention ADDitude Magazine

About 70 million Americans of all ages are affected by sleep problems.

How well did you sleep last night?

An article published in Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, reports that in some cases, adults diagnosed with ADHD may actually suffer from sleep apnea, a condition characterized by disrupted sleep, loud snoring and difficulty functioning during the day. Sleep apnea is more than just an annoyance to your bed partner. The condition has also been associated with an increased risk for hypertension and even stroke.

About 70 million Americans of all ages are affected by sleep problems. Symptoms include lack of focus, irritability, frustration and impulsive and emotional behavior - all of which could be mistaken for symptoms of ADHD. Lack of sleep is a serious health problem for Americans, costing an estimated $150 billion a year in higher stress and reduced workplace productivity.

The article discusses three adult patients who were diagnosed and being treated for ADHD. All three were subsequently diagnosed with sleep apnea. After being treated for their sleep problems, two of the patients were able to discontinue their use of stimulants for ADHD.

Children aren't getting enough sleep either

Experts recommend nine hours of sleep for children, but most aren't getting it. Dr. Carl Hunt believes that sleep problems may be misdiagnosed as ADHD in some children. "Sleep disorders are often not recognized in children, and symptoms related to sleep deprivation may be erroneously attributed to hyperactivity or behavior disorders, to boredom with school or today's hectic lifestyles," the director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research said. Among younger children, sleep deprivation can trigger hyperactivity, short attention span, difficulty concentrating and moodiness -- all of which could look like ADHD.

To help teach children about the importance of a good night's sleep, the National Sleep Foundation has enlisted the help of kids' sleep icon, P.J. Bear. The Sleep for Kids Campaign is designed to reach children -- before they enter adolescence -- with messages about the importance of sleep to their health, performance, behavior, and mood.

Quality counts

Restful, uninterrupted sleep is important for children. Research presented at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society points out that even simple snoring can cause problems. Dr. David Gozal of the University of Louisville, Kentucky confirmed that the prevalence of snoring and loud snoring is a frequent finding among 6-year-olds. "However, among children with ADHD there is a doubling of the prevalence of loud snoring, which suggests that there might be a relationship between sleep-disorder breathing and risk of ADHD," said Gozal.

"We believe that for some of the children with ADHD, sleep disorder is the cause of their behavior, because among some children with ADHD when we treat their snoring, their ADHD becomes much better or totally disappears."

Tired teens

Only 15 percent of adolescents reported sleeping more than eight and a half hours on school nights, according to a study published by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Over 25% of the students surveyed reported typically sleeping six and a half hours or less. Lack of sleep can lead to low grades and poor school performance. Falling asleep at the wheel may kill more young adults than alcohol-related accidents.

For more information, see "A Clinical Overview of Sleep and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents" from the May 2009 edition of the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Based on her research, Judith A. Owens explores the complex relationship between sleep and ADHD.


Having trouble sleeping? Share tips on getting more sleep with other ADHDers or parents of ADHD children in the ADHD and Sleep Issues support group on ADDConnect.


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