ADHD Children Sleep Less and More Poorly

Parents of ADHD children have claimed for years that their children have more trouble falling and staying asleep and have poorer quality sleep than other children.  A study out of Aarhus University has found that there is some truth behind this claim.

Recent studies have reported that approximately 70% of parents with ADHD children state that their child has a hard time falling and staying asleep and that their pre-bedtime routines take a long time.  Unfortunately, however, many science-based studies using electrodes to measure sleep quality have not been able to link ADHD and sleep quality.  This new Danish study gives some merit to these parental concerns and shows that children with ADHD do, in fact, sleep worse than other children their age.

Behind the study is lead researcher, Anne Virring Sorensen, a medical doctor at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital in Risskov.  She reported that their study validates their experience, which is that their child with ADHD takes longer to get to bed and fall asleep.  With the measurements used in this study, researchers have seen also that these children have disruptive sleep, especially deep sleep.  Only looking at the length of sleep will tell you that children with ADHD sleep an average of 45 minutes less than other children; however, it is the quality of sleep that is most concerning, researchers state.

It is reported that two out of three children diagnosed with ADHD have at least one additional psychiatric condition, which in all likelihood increases the risks of poor sleep quality.  However, even when scientists look only at those with an ADHD diagnoses, they find that there is still a big difference in the patterns compared to children in the control group without a diagnosis.

In this Danish study, researchers also reviewed the daytime sleep patterns, and the findings were surprising.

They found that children with ADHD were able to fall asleep more quickly during the day than at night.  This is so surprising because one of the primary characteristics of ADHD is hyperactivity; however, researchers note that this hyperactivity may be compensatory for the inability to sleep during the day.

Researchers being unable to find a correlation between poor sleep quality and ADHD in the past may be due to the different methods of measurement.  In this study, electrodes were attached to the children for polysomnography readings during an afternoon at the hospital.  However, they still slept in familiar home surroundings.  Previously, children were admitted to sleep centers in a hospital overnight in order to get a sleep study performed.

Anne Virring Sorensen makes it clear in her findings that the children in this study received no medication to help them fall asleep.  This is a major concern because many ADHD children are given medication at night to help them sleep.

 This study will be important for both the short and long term, researchers believe.  So far, clinicians and parents are pleased that their concerns about their ADHD child getting poorer sleep have been confirmed.  Of course, the next step in this process is to identify the correlation that will help develop more efficient treatment regimens in the future.  This is an important foundation for further study, Sorensen states.

Findings of this study were published in the Journal of Sleep Research. 

 Study Facts

  • The study included a total of 76 children with ADHD, with an average age of 9.6 years.
  • Twenty-five healthy children made up the control group.
  • There were two types of studies:
    • Use of multiple sleep latency tests, which looked at the speed in which children were able to fall asleep
    • Outpatient examinations with electrodes, also called polysomnography
  • So far, this is the largest study that includes both of the above types of studies, as well as both children with and without ADHD

Reference:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-05/au-cwa050416.php

Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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