Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorders. It may persist into adolescence and adulthood. A diagnosis of ADHD is dependent on symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Many of the most common behaviors linked to inadequate or disrupted sleep in children are similar to the symptoms of ADHD, including problems with attention and focusing, hyperactivity, irritability, disturbed mood, increased aggression and poor impulse control.
An increasing number of studies are showing that ADHD is linked with a variety of sleep problems:
- Sleep deprivation, such as not getting enough total sleep each night for their age, can make ADHD symptoms worse.
- Children with ADHD have been shown to have higher rates of daytime sleepiness than children without ADHD.
- Half of children with ADHD had signs of sleep-disordered breathing (including frequent snoring and obstructive sleep apnea), compared to only 22 percent of children without ADHD. Furthermore, research has shown that in children with obstructive sleep apnea and ADHD, treatment of the obstructive sleep apnea results in significant improvements in attention and reduced hyperactivity.
- Restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder also are common in children with ADHD, and there is evidence of an association between a diagnosis of RLS and PLMD and severity of ADHD symptoms.
These findings suggest an important link between sleep problems and ADHD and support the notion that sleep disorders can play a big role in adding to the severity of ADHD.
Screening for sleep disorders in children
It is important to screen for sleep disorders in all children, and particularly in children with ADHD.
All children with symptoms of ADHD should be routinely screened for primary sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. This may be accomplished using a simple screening tool known as BEARS:
B = Bedtime problems. Does your child have any problems going to bed or any problems falling asleep?
E = Excessive daytime sleepiness. Does your child show symptoms of excessive sleepiness or have difficulty waking up in the morning?
A = Awakenings. Does your child awaken during the night or have unusual behaviors during the night?
R = Regularity and duration of sleep. Does your child have a regular sleep schedule and get enough sleep?
S = Snoring. Does your child snore or have any problems breathing during the night?
The most important thing you can do for your child is to make sure that they get adequate sleep every night.
If you’re concerned about your child’s sleep habits, talk to your pediatrician or contact a specialist in our Sleep Center at (414) 266-2790.
- Nan Norins, MD, pediatric sleep specialist, Sleep Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
The Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the only sleep center in the state dedicated solely to the care of children and teens. The center is one of only two pediatric sleep labs in the country with two locations (Milwaukee and New Berlin) accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and staffed by four board-certified pediatric sleep specialists.