Is It Really ADHD, or Just a Lack of Sleep?

Filed under: Preschoolers, Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Development/Milestones: Babies, Feeding & Sleeping, Bedtime

Is your little one getting enough shut-eye at night? If not, they could be at risk for depression and other health problems. A study conducted at the University of Helsinki and National Institute of Health and Welfare has found that a child's short sleep duration (without sleeping difficulties) increases the risk for behavioural symptoms of ADHD.

With a continent short on sleep, it's not hard to imagine that a child's sleep deprivation may start to show in behavioural ways rather than just old-fashioned tiredness. In this recent study, 280 healthy boys and girls wore devices on their wrists to monitor their sleep. Children whose average sleep was less than 7.7 hours a night had higher hyperactivity and impulsiveness scores, as well as a higher ADHD total score, versus those who slept longer.

Is it fair to say, then, that lack of sleep causes hyperactivity or impulsiveness?
Not necessarily, but it seems to be a component of behaviour as a whole. I think we all know as adults what our behavioural tendencies are when we get over-tired or failed to get enough sleep the night before. Though we may not want to admit it, when we're sleep deprived, it's easy to become snarling, snarky, coffee-dependent individuals. So it's not too hard to imagine how kids must feel when they're fighting to stay awake.

For a better idea of how many hours your kids should be spending in dreamland each night, here is a rough guide from WebMD:
  • Ages 1-3: 12 to 14 hours per day
  • Ages 3-6: 10.75 to 12 hours per day
  • Ages 7-12: 10 to 11 hours per day
  • Ages 12 to 18: 8.25 to 9.5 hours per day
It does seem that as children age their sleep requirements drop slightly, but much of this comes from the removal of that handy daytime 'nap,' and a tendency for kids to want to stay up later as they age. What is more interesting is the reports that find children who do have sleep problems do not outgrow them, but instead they persist as the child ages. Also, the less sleep that children (and teenagers) get, the lower their academic performance tends to be. (It's hard to focus on your studies when you can barely keep your eyes open!)

Here are some tips to make sleep time more productive with your children:
  • Keep bedrooms cool: This increases REM sleep (the deep dream phase of sleep).
  • Insist on no TV or computer one to two hours before bed: The light from the TV or computer can delay the sleep producing hormone -- melatonin -- and delay sleep onset by 2 hours.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule: This means keeping a regular bedtime and getting up at the same time every day. The body cannot get in a habit or routine unless you repeat it regularly.
  • Encourage a 'wind down' mental activity with your kids: This can be reading, journalling, night-time stretches, a form of mediation or prayer, or listening to relaxing music. Anything to help calm the mind and get kids ready for bed.
Karla Heintz, B.Sc., is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition. If you have a question you would like answered please leave it in the comment section below. Thanks!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.