Jessica was three years old before she slept through the night. Her exhausted parents eventually moved her playpen into their bedroom so their nocturnally hyperactive daughter could entertain herself without climbing on the kitchen cabinets while they slept.
Problem-sleepers like Jessica have a much greater chance of having ADHD, according to a team of researchers from Children's University Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden. The team compared children aged 6-12 months who had difficulty sleeping with children the same age who had no sleep problems. Five years later, one in four of the children with severe sleep problems in infancy had qualified for ADHD diagnosis before they were six years old.
Severe sleep disorders in young children are relatively rare. Only 27 of the over 2,000 children originally involved in the study met the criteria for severe or chronic sleep disorders. Doctors compared these 27 children to 27 children who were sound sleepers.
Seven of the children who had sleep problems as infants were later diagnosed as having ADHD. None of the children who slept well when they were younger qualified for diagnosis five years later.
ADHD in these children was even more likely when combined with behavioral problems, higher than normal activity levels and psychosocial problems in the family.
"Some children and teens with ADHD have difficulty going to sleep at night because they can not turn their head off", says Dr. Larry Silver, M.D. "They are fidgety and active in bed. They hear every sound in the house and can not ignore these sounds."
According to Silver, medications like Ritalin, Dexedrine, or Adderall at night may help. "Yes, everyone thinks these medications cause sleep problems. However, when ADHD prevents you from going to sleep, being on these medications counteracts those symptoms," he adds.
Other sleep tips include establishing a set bedtime and a bedtime ritual. Routine is very important for children who have ADHD. Start slowing things down about ten minutes before bedtime and make going to bed a peaceful and fun experience. Try reading, talking quietly, or just sitting quietly with your child before they go to bed. Singing or playing soft music can also help your child relax.
Still, getting an energetic child to go to sleep can be a challenge. "You can lead a child to bed, but you can't make her sleep," says Jessica's dad.