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April 24, 2012 at 10:53 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

ADHD or Sleep Disorder?

By Brad Ter Haar More Blogs by This Author

Over the past decade, the number of diagnosed cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has skyrocketed among children. In fact, children diagnosed with ADHD rose by 22 percent from 2003 to 2007.

So what’s going on? Why has the number of children diagnosed with ADHD spiked in recent years? Some suggest we as a society have gotten better at diagnosing ADHD. It may, however, actually be the opposite. Researchers have discovered that many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD, when they actually suffer from a completely different problem: a sleep disorder.

Experts believe the reason sleep disorders are often times misdiagnosed as ADHD, is because the two disorders share some of the same symptoms and characteristics. For adults, sleep deprivation usually results in feelings of sluggishness and drowsiness. For children, on the other hand, sleep deprivation leads to feelings of moodiness, trouble concentrating, and hyperactivity at times. This may help explain why children who experience sleep disorders are frequently misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Researchers Link Sleep Disorder with ADHD Symptoms

A recent study, which followed 11,000 children from the time they were six months old to when they were six years old, found a link between ADHD and sleep disorders among children. Those who were affected by breathing problems like sleep apnea or snoring, were at least 40 percent more likely to exhibit behavioral problems resembling those associated with ADHD.

Essentially, this study provides clues to the link between sleep disorders and ADHD among children. Although further studies are needed to provide conclusive results, it appears children with sleep disorders and children suffering from ADHD share similar symptoms and behavioral characteristics. This does not, however, mean children with sleep disorders necessarily have ADHD and vice versa.

Another study even found that some mental health practitioners base their diagnoses of ADHD on general rules of thumb. For instance, the study found that males were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females, and stereotypical ADHD characteristics, such as impulsiveness and lack of concentration were used by many doctors to diagnose a child with ADHD. Behaving impulsively and having poor concentration can just as easily be because of a lack of sleep or a sleep disorder.

Even children who don’t have a sleep disorder, but simply do not get enough sleep, can develop symptoms associated with ADHD. Researchers have found that children who lose as little as a half an hour of sleep per night (e.g. staying up late playing video games) can develop symptoms similar to an ADHD sufferer.

What I found most alarming was that children with sleep disorders who have been misdiagnosed with ADHD, are often medicated with drugs that only exacerbate their sleepiness.

Parents of children with sleep disorders are not always aware of their child’s condition. Parents often overlook or disregard snoring as normal patterns of sleep, but this is often not the case, and could be a symptom of sleep apnea, for instance.

If you, your child, or someone you know has been diagnosed with ADHD or thinks they may have ADHD, first consider the possibility of a sleep disorder. Although ADHD may indeed be the actual cause of behavioral issues and a lack of concentration in an individual, sleep disorders may just as well be the cause, and should be thoroughly examined just to be sure.


Photo Credit: marktrash  anoldent   goto10

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  • Doesn't ADHD casue sleeping problems as well? My son has a hard time going to sleep but does not snore and gets up easily if he goes to bed on time. He is on Synaptol and this has seem to help him be less restless at bedtime. Any thing else I should be watching?

  • "e.g. staying up late playing video games."

    I know this is merely a reiteration of what the research professionals probably stated, but still disappointing that gaming is the first to be cited as the reason kids are staying up late. I mean really, number one? Facebook? An excess of sugar given before bed? Irresponsible parents who don't know the definition of discipline?

  • I understand what you're getting at E.M., but there's quite a difference between a "reason" and an example.
    If we were to research and rank the reasons why children stay up late, Facebook, irresponsible children, ect. would probably make the list, but so would video games, which makes it an example, but not necessarily the number one reason.

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