Discovering the Connections Between ADHD/ADD and Sleep Disorders in Kids

Poor impulse control, forgetfulness, and trouble paying attention are just a few of the behaviors commonly associated with ADHD. However, these can also be signs of sleep disordered breathing. Since a lot of kids with ADHD find sleeping a challenge, these two issues can be hard to differentiate.

Has your child been misdiagnosed with ADHD when the symptoms are really due to the child’s disrupted sleep? You may be surprised to learn that some parents of children diagnosed with ADHD claim that the symptoms disappeared upon resolution of sleep issues.

Does this mean that these children did not have ADHD in the first place?

Children with ADHD/ADD and Sleep Problems

About one quarter up to one-half of parents with children diagnosed with ADHD report that their children suffer from sleep problems. Based on reports, kids with ADHD are two to three times more likely to experience issues with sleeping compared to those without ADHD.

Inadequate sleep can negatively affect the child’s way of thinking, functioning, and behaving. Children who have sleep problems may show behavior and other impairments that are similar to those who have ADHD. A study conducted at Aarhus University found that parents reported symptoms similar to ADHD for children who did not sleep long enough. These symptoms included impulsivity, hyperactivity, and behavioral, problems.

Signs of Sleep Disturbance

Lack of sleep can be a result of nightmares, anxiety, sleep apnea, and asthma that affect the child’s breathing. Ruling out these medical conditions is an important task for a parent.

The signs of sleep disordered breathing can appear as early as age 1. Things to look out for include:

  • Mouth breathing when sleeping

  • Snoring

  • Pauses in breathing when sleeping

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Difficulty staying asleep

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning

  • Waking up coughing

There are guidelines when it comes to how much sleep children need at every age. Sleeping less than what’s required is not an immediate indication that something is wrong with your child. However, getting less quality sleep than an average child of the same age range can be a reason for further investigation. Lack of sleep can also impact the child’s behavior even if it does not reach the level of a full-blown ADHD.

Signs of ADHD

Research reveals that 6 to 10% of the population suffer from ADHD. ADHD signs to look out for include:

  • Irritability

  • Falling asleep during classes

  • Distractibility

  • Difficulty in paying attention

  • Difficulty sustaining focus on activities that the child may find uninteresting or not rewarding

  • Difficulty listening and following even simple directions

  • Difficulty staying seated and always fidgeting

  • Excessive amount of energy

  • Tendency to blurt things out and interrupt

  • Easily distractible

  • Trouble organizing

  • Forgetful

  • Impatience

  • Children with ADHD can have difficulties with self-regulation. This can make it more difficult for them to shift from their active mode to their wind-down mode during the evening.

  • Children with ADHD are more prone to getting nightmares, bedwetting, and restless leg syndrome.

  • Children with ADHD tend to put off doing homework or other tasks until the last minute before they go to sleep.

  • A lot of children with ADHD also have anxiety problems. Because there are fewer activities at night to distract them, the anxiety emerges. It causes them to have troubles falling and staying asleep.

  • Tweens and teens with ADHD feel productive at night. As a result, they form the habit of staying up too late.

Sleep Problems or ADHD?

We know that sleep problems can mimic the symptoms of ADHD and that ADHD can create sleep disruption. So, how can you tell which causes your child’s symptoms?

This is more than a “which came first – the chicken of the egg” type of puzzle. The presence of sleep disordered breathing, especially sleep apnea, can be extremely harmful, even deadly.

This problem is compounded by the findings of 2011 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of the pediatricians they studied, they found that:

  • Less than 1 in 5 had formal sleep disorders training

  • Less than 1 in 6 felt confident in providing guidance to parents about their children’s sleep problems

  • Less than 1 in 7 could correctly answer questions about snoring and sleep apnea.

This lack of knowledge and training is not restricted to pediatricians. The fact is that sleep disorders, especially sleep disordered breathing, are often overlooked and are extremely underdiagnosed.

A lot of psychologists and pediatricians may give incorrect diagnosis since symptoms of ADHD resemble symptoms of sleep disorders. To prevent misdiagnosis, it is imperative to seek a second opinion for a more accurate diagnosis. Find a dentist that specializes in sleep disorders to rule out sleep disorders.