Is ADHD Really a Sleep Problem?
New research by a group of European psychiatrists and neuroscientists suggests that a large proportion of individuals diagnosed with ADHD may in fact be suffering from disruptions in their circadian rhythms leading to sleep problems which may be at the core of the ADHD diagnosis.
Presenting their findings at European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress, held in Paris, France this past weekend, Professor Sandra Kooij (Associate Professor of Psychiatry at VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, noted:
“There is extensive research showing that people with ADHD also tend to exhibit sleep problems. What we are doing here is taking this association to the next logical step: pulling all the work together leads us to say that, based on existing evidence, it looks very much like ADHD and circadian problems are intertwined in the majority of patients. We believe this because the day and night rhythm is disturbed, the timing of several physical processes is disturbed, not only of sleep, but also of temperature, movement patterns, timing of meals, and so on. If you review the evidence, it looks more and more like ADHD and sleeplessness are 2 sides of the same physiological and mental coin”
Kooij believes that if this hypothesis is confirmed, then treatment of ADHD symptoms may be possible with non-pharmaceutical methods including the use of natural light treatment, melatonin, and guidelines for good sleep hygiene.
In my book The Myth of the ADHD Child: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion, Strategy #77 is ”Make Sure Your Child Gets Sufficient Sleep.” I offer several tips for better sleep including:
- set consistent times for going to bed and getting up in the morning;
- turn off tech devices (TV, computers, phones) one to two hours before bed;
- avoid stressful events likely to be arousing before bedtime;
- create a relaxing routine leading up to bedtime that might include reading, music, a back rub, meditating, or doing yoga
- keep the bedroom dark or dim leading up to bedtime, and in the morning, open the blinds or curtains wide to let in natural light
- avoid using bedtime as a reward (being allowed to stay up late) or punishment (having to go to bed early)
These are just a few of the many strategies available to help children and adults develop better sleep habits. For further information, see Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (Touchstone). Consult your physician if you notice special issues such as breathing difficulties (which could point to sleep apnea as a problem), restless legs, chronic insomnia, frequent nightmares, or other sleep irregularities.