ADHD - a bedtime story

comment   | print |



A popular article in the New York Times suggests that soaring figures for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be inflated by something as simple as poor sleep. New York University psychiatry professor Vatsal G. Thakkar picks up on the recent news about the surging number of diagnoses of ADHD among children. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of school-age children have now received a diagnosis of the condition. Among high school aged boys the figure is around 20 percent.

A couple of weeks ago I discussed some of the reasons being advanced -- and one of my own (more or less). Dr Thakkar adds another: maybe some of it is not ADHD but the result of a chronic deficit of sleep -- particularly the deep variety he calls “delta sleep”. Insomnia doesn’t necessarily turn you into a zombie by day:

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused. Researchers and reporters are increasingly seeing connections between dysfunctional sleep and what looks like A.D.H.D., but those links are taking a long time to be understood by parents and doctors.

Sleep can be undermined by -- among other things -- breathing difficulties (apnoea), changes of routine, and, among children especially, crowded daily schedules and prolonged exposure to digital devices and screens:

We all get less sleep than we used to. The number of adults who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours each night went from some 2 percent in 1960 to more than 35 percent in 2011. Sleep is even more crucial for children, who need delta sleep — the deep, rejuvenating, slow-wave kind — for proper growth and development. Yet today’s youngsters sleep more than an hour less than they did a hundred years ago. And for all ages, contemporary daytime activities — marked by nonstop 14-hour schedules and inescapable melatonin-inhibiting iDevices — often impair sleep. It might just be a coincidence, but this sleep-restricting lifestyle began getting more extreme in the 1990s, the decade with the explosion in A.D.H.D. diagnoses.

Thakkar cites several studies among children that support his view of the ADHD-sleep connection. One showed a decrease in ADHD diagnoses among children whose breathing improved after having their tonsils out. A British study found that infants who suffered sleep-disordered breathing were more likely to have behavioural problems when they were older, even if their breathing difficulties have been resolved -- “implying that an infant breathing problem might cause some kind of potentially irreversible neurological injury.”

And then there’s the adults… Take home message: make sure you and your kids get enough of the right kind of sleep by --

* dealing with sleep breathing disorders

* having routines that are not too action-packed

* limiting time spent on electronic devices

All this is obviously easier with two committed parents on the job, and one of them able to spend more time with the children.



This article is published by Carolyn Moynihan and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

comments powered by Disqus

Family Edge looks at news and trends affecting the family in the light of human dignity. Our focus is the inspiring, creative, humorous, annoying, ridiculous, and dangerous ideas in the evening news. Send tips and brainwaves to the editor, Tamara Rajakariar, at tamara.rajakariar@

rss FamilyEdge RSS feed

Follow MercatorNet
subscribe to newsletter
Sections and Blogs
Family Edge
Sheila Reports
Reading Matters
Demography Is Destiny
Conniptions (the editorial)
contact us
our ideals
our People
Mercator who?
partner sites
audited accounts
advice for writers
New Media Foundation
Suite 12A, Level 2
5 George Street
North Strathfield NSW 2137
+61 2 8005 8605
skype: mercatornet
© New Media Foundation 2016 | powered by Encyclomedia | designed by Elleston