The Connection Between ADHD and Sleep

We’re talking today about a serious issue — ADHD, and its relationship to sleep. Now, since ADHD isn’t usually diagnosed until the preschool or early school years, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with me and my baby? Why should I read this?”

Don’t skip this article just yet, though. This might not impact you now, but the odds suggest it definitely could. Rates of ADHD diagnoses are on the rise; the percentage of American children diagnosed with the disorder has risen 66% in the last 10 years. That is significant, readers! There’s also evidence to suggest that the sleep issues your baby or toddler might have now could lead to a greater risk for ADHD.

And of course, some of you reading this have experienced ADHD personally — one of your children has it, or a niece or nephew has it. Maybe you even have it. Adults suffer from ADHD, too, after all.

We’re not going to attempt to tackle every facet of ADHD in this article; we’d fast run out of room if we tried! Rather, we’re going to focus on one particular sub-set of the ADHD diagnosis — we’re going to examine ADHD and sleep disorders, and how the two are connected.

ADHD and Sleep Disorders: A Major Correlation

You don’t have to search very far to come up with plenty of evidence indicating that ADHD and sleep disorders are connected. It’s estimated than anywhere from one quarter to one half of children with an ADHD diagnosis also suffer from one or more sleep disorders. That’s a significantly higher rate than we would find in a group of children without ADHD.

So what kinds of sleep disorders do ADHD children suffer from? The list includes:

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Sleep apnea (loud snoring, long pauses between breathing during sleep)
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (an overwhelming desire to move and kick legs during sleep)
  • Frequent night waking
  • Sensory processing issues (oversensitivity to feel of the blankets or sheets, to light or sound, etc.)
  • Difficulty relaxing and falling asleep at bedtime

Here’s the really, really hard part — sleep disorders and ADHD symptoms tend to work in tandem. Sleep disorders cause a child to get less sleep than she needs; that lack of sleep makes her ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity, an inability to calm down and focus, etc.) worse. And her worsening ADHD symptoms make it even harder for her to sleep, which makes her ADHD symptoms even more severe… It’s a discouraging, heartbreaking cycle for many families.

This works in much the same way that overtiredness works in babies — if your baby doesn’t get enough sleep one night, it makes him overly exhausted the next day. And that overtiredness makes it even harder for him to fall sleep the next night, which makes him even more overtired…

Peggy Dolane shared her own experience with us in a previous post. Here’s what she had to say about the connection between her daughter’s ADHD and sleep:

Three years ago, my seven year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. Looking back on it, difficulty falling sleep was one of the significant symptoms of her ADHD. From day one, even as a baby, sleep didn’t come as easily as for her older brother. She would lie in her crib, clearly tired, singing to herself for up to an hour every night. Often, you’d find her sitting up in her crib asleep!

Once we moved her to a big-girl bed, sleep became a major issue. She just couldn’t seem to let go at the end of the day. The more tired she was, the harder it was for her to go to sleep. Exhausted, she would have major tantrums at night.

Could Sleep Disorders Actually Cause ADHD?

Experts agree that there’s a strong connection between ADHD and sleep, but lately, some researchers have found evidence to suggest that sleep disorders might actually be the cause of many cases of ADHD. An article in the Well blog of the New York Times explains this new line of thinking.

The article highlights a study presented in March 2012, which found that children who suffered from sleep apnea as infants and toddlers were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD when they reached their preschool and early school years.

The article goes on to cite other studies which indicate that children who have ADHD and sleep apnea benefit greatly from having their adenoids and tonsils removed (since enlarged adenoids and tonsils are a huge cause of sleep apnea). In fact, many of the children who had surgery improved so much, they no longer fit the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis!

Dr. Merill Wise, a pediatric neurologist and sleep medicine specialist, summarizes the findings this way:

“No one is saying that ADHD does not exist, but there’s a strong feeling now that we need to rule out sleep issues first.”

ADHD and Sleep Disorders: What Parents Can Do To Help

It’s almost a chicken-and-egg scenario, isn’t it? Which came first — the ADHD or the sleep disorder? Scientist haven’t come to an agreement on that question yet, but one fact remains clear: it’s vital that a child with ADHD get the sleep he needs. Research suggests that being well-rested will help alleviate some (or maybe even all) of his ADHD symptoms.

So what can we do as parents to help our children with ADHD sleep well? Consider some of the following steps:

  • Talk to your doctor. If you suspect your child has a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or Restless Leg Syndrome, seek out appropriate medical treatment. Surgery to remove tonsils and adenoids can help with apnea, and there are several types of medications that can alleviate RLS.
  • Consider vitamin supplements (under doctor supervision, of course!) Low levels of magnesium and iron have been shown to directly impact sleep. Some parents have found that offering magnesium and iron supplements has really helped their children get the sleep they need.
  • Talk with your pediatrician a melatonin supplement. We wrote a bit about this in our article on Autism and Sleep. Turns out that children with autism and ADHD tend to have lower-than-normal levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycles. We advise that you always speak to your doctor before giving your child any supplements. We also recommend looking at sleep associations and reviewing your child’s schedule should be the first steps in trying to remedying a sleep problem before thinking about giving your child supplements. With that in mind, melatonin supplements have worked well for some families; Peggy Dolane shares this about how melatonin has helped her daughter:

    At our next visit, our psychiatrist affirmed that many of his patients took Melatonin daily to sleep. So with mixed emotions, we tried it. The very first night we saw a dramatic improvement. The child that regularly took an hour or more to fall asleep immediately lay down and slept. Quietly. With no fuss. Within three weeks she was sleeping 11 hours a night instead of 10 and her evening tantrums had dramatically decreased. I started being able to enjoy being around my child at bedtime.

  • Establish boundaries and routines, and stay consistent. We all know that when it comes to bedtime and sleep, our children need to have firm boundaries in place, and to know that mom and dad are consistent in enforcing those boundaries. The same goes for children with ADHD. It may be difficult (extremely difficult!) to get your child with ADHD to get in bed and stay in bed, and fall asleep at a reasonable time, but do your best to establish a good bedtime routine and then stick to it. Prioritizing her sleep will pay off in the long run.

Time for you to weigh in! What’s been your experience with ADHD and sleep disorders? Share your story; it’s as valuable to our readers as any expert opinions!

If you’re looking for ways to to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

ADHD and Sleep

ADHD and SleepIn a prior article, I talked about ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and sleep problems. Today, I have a guest post from Peggy Dolane telling her story of her daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD and how it affected her sleep and how her family solved the problem. I thought this could help others with children diagnosed with ADHD and suffer sleep deprivation.

 

ADHD and Sleep

by Peggy Dolane
Peggy Dolane is a freelance marketing writer and strategist. Her current projects include writing the blog for the Edge Foundation, a non-profit that provides coaching for students with ADHD.

 
Three years ago, my seven year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. Looking back on it, difficulty falling sleep was one of the significant symptoms of her ADHD. From day one, even as a baby, sleep didn’t come as easily as for her older brother. She would lie in her crib, clearly tired, singing to herself for up to an hour every night. Often, you’d find her sitting up in her crib asleep!

Once we moved her to a big-girl bed, sleep became a major issue. She just couldn’t seem to let go at the end of the day. The more tired she was, the harder it was for her to go to sleep. Exhausted, she would have major tantrums at night. And, she refused to stay in bed. If I didn’t sit right outside her door until she fell asleep, I’d find her in the kitchen smearing strawberry jam like finger-paints on the refrigerator door. Or, she’d be happily sprinkling all of my spices throughout the kitchen. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a turmeric stain out?) More nights than I care to remember, she would wind up in a hysterical tantrum that only ended when she was spanked. Somehow, that worked to send her off to sleep. Traveling was also very difficult for our family. We had to book two hotel rooms so at least half of our family could get some sleep. She would be up until 1 or 2 in the morning EVERY NIGHT.

I read every book on sleep to help her. But nothing worked. Desperate, we consulted with a psychologist who worked with us on a very strict sleep regime with no results. During this time she was diagnosed with ADHD and I read that sleep disorders are common with children who have ADHD. I found an article that said that Melatonin was a helpful, natural, supplement that many people with ADHD use to fall asleep.

If you had asked me before raising my daughter if I’d consider giving my child medication to help her sleep, I’d have said, “no way!” I remember as an adolescent lying awake at night, tired, unable to sleep and my mother having me tough it out. That’s just what you do. But we were desperate. No one wants to spank their child to sleep at night. And I knew we had done everything we could, read every book, tried months of expert-led behavioral therapy. Worst of all, bedtimes were damaging my relationship with my child.

At our next visit, our psychiatrist affirmed that many of his patients took Melatonin daily to sleep. So with mixed emotions, we tried it. The very first night we saw a dramatic improvement. The child that regularly took an hour or more to fall asleep immediately lay down and slept. Quietly. With no fuss. Within three weeks she was sleeping 11 hours a night instead of 10 and her evening tantrums had dramatically decreased. I started being able to enjoy being around my child at bedtime.

Two years later we are still giving her Melatonin every night. Does she still need it? You bet she does. One night last week, I forgot to give it to her. She quietly played in her room for two hours. I didn’t even know she was awake until I went to check on her before going to bed myself at 10:30. At that point she was overtired, so it took her another hour to fall asleep after I gave her the Melatonin.

I’m not a doctor, so I would urge anyone who is considering using Melatonin to consult with their pediatrician first before trying it. I have heard that Melatonin can give some people nightmares, but that hasn’t been our experience. I do know that problems with sleep for children who have ADHD are not uncommon. Over at Café Mom’s ADHD support groups, you’ll frequently find mothers who are struggling with a child who can’t sleep and mothers who found Melatonin was the only thing that worked. For our family, I’d call it a life saver.

 

ADHD Resources

Symptoms of ADHD and ADD: About.com and Family Doctor

Learn about Melatonin

Helpful books about ADHD

 

ADHD Support

CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

CafeMom (search ADHD)

Have your own ADHD story to share? Share it with us!

Struggling to get your baby or toddler to sleep well at night and during naps? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. Have a newborn at home? Download our free guide on newborn sleep, 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know, or purchase a copy of our comprehensive e-Book on newborn sleep, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.

Sleep Problems, Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

Sleep Problems, Bipolar Disorder, and ADHD

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in children can now be traced back to infancy, as this article has shown. Bipolar children were found to be more difficult to console in infancy, exhibit a decreased need for sleep or difficulty going to sleep. In addition, recurring nightmares or night terrors have also been present in these children. On top of the sleep problems being a symptom, these children may seem more gifted in their “movement, language, and thought patterns” and creative in their writing, art, music, etc.

Interestingly enough, there is some overlap in ADHD symptoms and Bipolar Disorder. Among other symptoms, ADHD children may not sleep as long as other kids, but they don’t have the nightmares bipolar kids have. ADHD kids are generally not crabby after waking up quickly and are not generally gifted like bipolar kids.

This is actually a little scary in that some of the descriptions of Bipolar Disorder and ADHD sound a little like my eldest son (no nightmares). I thought this information was interesting, as they find out more about ADHD and Bipolar Disorder. Weissbluth theorizes that because they know children with ADHD have sleep-related problems, that it’s possible the sleep problems led to the hyperactivity and ADHD (they still don’t know which comes first). He illustrates one example of how this might happen in his book and talks about chronic fatigue leading to an increased amount of neurotransmitters (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine), causing more activity in the child both day and night (less restful sleep). This article also discusses the relationship between sleep deprivation and the symptoms of ADHD being magnified. If this is true, this is yet another reason to help your child learn healthy sleep habits such that it does not lead to chronic fatigue and sleep loss, leading to a potential ADHD outcome. As I mentioned in my article about behavior problems and sleep, it is imperative that my eldest son gets enough sleep and if my ability to give him healthy sleep habits has made it less likely he will be later diagnosed with ADHD, even better!

Do you ever notice your child get hyper when he isn’t sleeping enough?

Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. Have a newborn at home? Download our free guide on newborn sleep, 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know, or purchase a copy of our comprehensive e-Book on newborn sleep, Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep. Or, join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.