ADHD News & Research

Study: Sleep Problems, Not ADHD, Tied Closely to Decreased Inhibitory Control in Children

Sleep problems predict problems with inhibitory control more so than do symptoms of hyperactive or attentive ADHD, according to a recent study from Australia that analyzed the relationship between sleep and reaction time variability (RTV) in a sample of 146 children.

August 17, 2020

Inhibitory control problems are more closely tied to sleep disturbances than they are to symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) in children with and without the condition, according to a new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1

To investigate the association between dysregulated sleep, inhibition performance, and ADHD symptoms, researchers studied 73 children with ADHD and 73 children without ADHD ages 10.5 to 13.5. They used the Adolescent Sleep Wake scale and parent reports to measure sleep problems, and the Stop Signal Task (SST) to measure inhibition.

Children with ADHD were found to have more parent-reported sleep problems; self-reported sleep measures were not significantly different between the two groups. Hyperactivity alone had the largest probability of association with parent-reported sleep disturbances; inattentive symptoms were linked to parent-reported excessive sleepiness. Self-reported anxiety was the strongest individual predictor of self-reported sleep problems.

Bayesian linear regression models found that sleep problems predicted real-time variation on an inhibition task whereas ADHD symptoms did not explain variance once sleep problems were accounted for. Total sleep problems alone explained up to 16% of the variance in inhibition performance.

The use of subjective sleep measures limited this study, although the same can be said for the majority of sleep studies on individuals with ADHD due to difficulty obtaining objective measures. These findings reiterate the importance of assessing sleep in children with manifestations of ADHD and developing interventions for targeting sleep problems. This study contributes to research on overdiagnosis of ADHD due to behavioral manifestations of underlying sleep disorders.

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1Mann, B., Sciberras, E., He, J., Youssef, G., Anderson, V., & Silk, T. J. (2020). The Role of Sleep in the Relationship Between ADHD Symptoms and Stop Signal Task Performance. Journal of Attention Disorders