A growing body of evidence is showing that sleep disturbances can cause and exacerbate behavior and learning problems and may mimic the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is important for pediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists to consider sleep disorders early in the work up of ADHD, ADD or other learning or psychiatric problems. Indeed, it may be best that a child should not receive a diagnosis of ADHD without having had an overnight sleep study to rule out sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a much under-recognized problem in the pediatric population. It occurs in 2-3% of all school-aged children. A study published in the medical journal, Pediatrics, (July 2009) found that one third of the 194 study subjects (who were age 4 to 10 years old and had asthma) had child sleep apnea (aka, sleep disordered breathing). These children also had significant behavioral problems when compared to those kids who did not have sleep apnea.
The authors suggest that pediatricians be “particularly diligent about screening all children with asthma for sleep disordered breathing (sleep apnea) and also consider sleep disorders as a possible risk factor for behavior problems.”
Parents with children diagnosed with ADHD can think that their children “sleep just fine” because they go to bed and seem to sleep for 10 hours before emerging from their bedrooms. However, few parents actually sit and watch their children sleep for hours so they don’t really know about their quality of sleep. Too many children are being put on stimulates, and many at such a young age.
These drugs were never tested in children and this usage is a recent enough phenomenon that we are only starting to see how people fare who have been taking stimulants (e.g. methylphenidate (Ritalin or Concerta); dextroamphetamine + amphetamine (Adderall); lisdexamfetamine (Vyvance) for many years. Sleep doctors regularly see teens and young adults who suffer from intractable insomnia likely connected to lifelong use of prescription stimulants.
Ask your doctor about the relationship between ADD/ADHD and sleep or call our office for a consultation.