Shuteye Strategies for ADHD Children

ADHD health advice to help your ADD child get the sleep she needs.

ADHD and sleep disorders ADDitude Magazine

There's a biological reason why children with ADD tend to sleep less than non-ADD kids.

   
 

ADHD Health Issue: Primary Sleep Disorder

If your child’s sleep problems persist (or if they’re accompanied by snoring or irregular breathing), he may be suffering from what’s known as a primary sleep disorder. A physician should evaluate him for sleep disorder breathing, obstructive sleep apnea, abnormally large tonsils, and restless legs syndrome (RLS).

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Getting a good night’s sleep can be a big problem for children who have attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). Research has shown that 20 percent of these children have difficulty falling or staying asleep. That’s three times the rate among children who don’t have the condition.

A study from England has found that sleep problems are also common among parents of ADD kids. In the study, which involved 100 parents of children five to 17 years of age, 57 percent of the parents slept six hours or less, with 27 percent getting less than five hours. More than half of the kids got up at least four times during the night. Forty-two percent of the kids woke up before 6:00 a.m.

It doesn’t take much to figure out what’s going on here: When children are awake, it’s hard for parents to get any shuteye.

Sleep deprivation affects adults the way it affects kids: It makes them irritable (and sometimes depressed), impatient, and less efficient at just about everything they do. Adults who haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep are more likely to miss work. And sleep-deprived parents aren’t very good at managing their children.

The biology of sleep

There’s a biological reason why children with ADD tend to sleep less than non-ADD kids: Many of the same regions of the brain regulate both attention and sleep. A child who has attention problems is likely to have sleep problems, as well.

You can’t change your child’s biology. But there are ADD-friendly strategies to help kids overcome their sleep problems. Here’s what I tell parents:

Steer clear of sleeping pills.

Most sleep medications that work well for adults haven’t been adequately tested for their safety and effectiveness in children. That goes for the over-the-counter sleep aid melatonin, as well as prescription sleeping pills.

Doctors sometimes prescribe clonidine for ADD children who have trouble falling asleep. The drug does make it easier to fall asleep, but its sedating effect lasts for only about six hours. Most kids who take it awaken around two o’clock in the morning.

Set a realistic bedtime.

Accept the fact that your child may need less sleep than other kids his age. If you put him to bed too early, there’s a chance that he’ll just lie there, wide awake, for an extended period of time. That will make him anxious — and will only increase the likelihood that he’ll climb out of bed and disturb your sleep.


This article comes from the October/November 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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