ADHD and Sleep Problems: New Study on Children

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • If you have a child with ADHD, chances are that getting him to sleep is one of the biggest stressors you face on a daily basis, and not just for you, but for your child and the entire family. And it's not just about getting your child to bed; it's managing other sleep-related problems, such as nightmares, difficulties waking up, and more. Is it no wonder that families with ADHD children are chronically tired, irritable and stressed?


    Many parents describe the following scenario:


    Their child's ADHD medication begins to wear off well before bedtime, causing an increase in hyperactivity, impulsivity and moodiness. Even with the best parenting skills, the child's impulses cannot be controlled and the parent might find him racing through the house, grabbing food, pulling toys out and even getting out of bed numerous times before sleep overtakes him.

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    Older children often delay bedtime, unable to transition from playing video games, watching TV, talking on the phone, to unwinding enough to head up to bed. Parents then find themselves yelling, punishing and ultimately finding evenings to be less than peaceful- they lose their own "down time" and feel not only angry at their child, but guilty for the feelings overwhelming them and lack of control over the situation. Worse, what should be a pleasant time between parent and child- a positive "bonding" experience, often ends up becoming a nightly war zone.


    Sound familiar? Does it help to know you're not alone?


    There have been a number of studies showing how sleep problems are commonly seen in children with ADHD. But a new study, published in the April 2008 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, takes this a bit further by exploring more specifically how sleep disorders affect children with ADHD, as well as their families.


    Lead researcher, Valerie Sung, M.B.B.S., of the Centre for Community Child Health, Parkville, Australia, studied families of 239 school children (average age 11.7) with ADHD to determine the prevalence of sleep disorders and its broad effects on these children.


    About half of the parents reported that their child with ADHD suffered some sort of sleep difficulties, including falling asleep, feel tired upon waking, nightmares, or other sleep related problems such as restless leg syndrome or breathing disorders.


    Interestingly but not surprisingly, the parents of children with ADHD reported more stress, anxiety and depression compared to parents of children without ADHD.


    The researchers found that these sleep problems were associated with a variety of difficulties in the children's lives: psychosocial, family functioning, the child's daily functioning and parent/caregiver's mental health and work habits.


    The breakdown was described as follows:


    73.3% (175) of the children experienced sleep problems. Of these, 28.5% were mild sleep problems and 44.8% were moderate or severe. The most commonly reported difficulties were difficulty falling asleep, resisting going to sleep and tiredness on waking.


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    These children also were more likely to miss or be late for school, causing their parents or caregivers to also be late for work.


    This study supports earlier ones, showing the high incidence of sleep difficulties in children with ADHD, but further explores how this affects the child's daytime functioning, relationships and also the effects on parents. The researchers suggest that clinicians implement sleep interventions for children diagnosed with ADHD as part of the treatment plan, in order to improve symptoms and quality of life and even perhaps reduce the need for medication in some children.


    They stress that clinicians explore sleep problems in all children being treated for ADHD.




    Journal reference: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162[4]:336-342.

Published On: April 17, 2008