ADHD Symptoms in Children

Sleep Problems May Point to ADHD

Research compares problem sleepers to those who sleep soundly.

Illustration counting sheeps before sleeping, a method for people with ADHD
Illustration counting sheeps before sleeping, a method for people with ADHD

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.

[How Sleeplessness Looks a Lot Like ADHD]

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.

[Free Download: Sound Sleep Solutions for Kids with ADHD]

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.

7 Comments & Reviews

  1. I saw this article today. It may interest someone.


  2. From Deepak Chopra’s Restless Sleep book…I made a copy of this paragraph that has meant a lot to me. (Because I have been tested for ADD twice, 40 years apart, due to repercussions of insomnia.)[I forgot to write down the page # and already returned the book to the library-early!]
    “…very young victims of sleeplessness are far from depressed…they’re exceedingly alert…ready for action at all times. For many years this kind of behavior in children was misunderstood as completely positive…But as the child grows older…the inability to sleep well begins to take a toll. Adult victims of childhood insomnia are often unable to hold a job or even to behave normally in everyday social interactions. Every day, they literally feel as a normal person would after participating in a sleep-deprivation experiment lasting hundreds of hours.”
    So I might not have ADD, but my exhaustion has presented as ADD-like. ADDitude has helped me feel better about my inattentive, drowsy life because some of the coping mechanisms I’ve developed along the way are similar to advice found on/in its pages.

  3. How does one separate causation and correlation on this issue?

    What do you do, when you ask for help with your sleepless toddler, and all you get is instructions in ever stricter bed-times routines, and a lecture on how slack bed-time routines and following sleep problems can cause ADHD in your child?

    Fact is, you can not separate correlation and causation in this, or any other, study. Neither can you ‘prove’ why your child is not sleeping, and why your somewhat flexible bed-time routines are probably the best option for your child.

    So this has to be taken with great caution. Being and adult with a long history of sleeping problems, it was a relief to discover how ritalin help me sleep. Actually, ritalin doesn’t help with much else, I’m still fidgety, forgetful, disorganized, late, and completely incapable of self-motivating myself for chores, but 40mg depot before bed improves every aspect of my sleep. I wake up naturally when the ritaling runs out, feeling refreshed.

    As a side note, I think the focus on school performance in children is especially unhelpful, and potentially harmful. Mental helth and sleep, not school performance or behaviour, should be the main focus when assessing and treating ADHD also in children. (This was the focus when I got diagnosed as an adult.)

  4. I wish someone would have told me sleeplessness was a sign of ADHD. My son didn’t sleep through the night on any regular basis until 4 1/2 years old. We still are up for some time more often than not.

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