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ADHD & Sleep

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of children where it affects the parts of the brain that control attention, impulses and concentration & the exact cause is unknown. However it is known that if a parent has ADHD then a child of that parent is more likely to have diagnosable ADHD. It is now grouped with neurodevelopmental disorders as opposed to disruptive behavioural disorders and symptoms must be present in more that one setting (i.e home & school)

There is research that shows environmental factors could increase the likelihood of a child having ADHD, these are:

  • Toxins in pregnancy - use of tobacco, alcohol & illegal drugs can have an effect on brain development of the foetus (more specifically the dopamine pathways)

  • Food additives have been cited to have possible links to ADHD

  • Childhood exposure to toxins

  • Research has been carried out to determine if living in a chaotic household can increase the risk of ADHD. However this is difficult to untangle and unfair to assume-does the child have ADHD as a result of chaotic parenting or is the household chaotic as a result of having a more challenging child?

ADHD and sleep deprivation can overlap where studies have shown that children who are sleep deprived or who have various sleep disorders such as Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) can sometimes present with ADHD type symptoms and therefore can be wrongly diagnosed depending on the practitioner who is assessing the child and the field the practitioner works in. The child is the same, it is the practitioner who is different. Ruling out any other factors that can be contributing to the sleep issues can help in the diagnosis of ADHD.

ADHD symptoms can be exacerbated by sleep problems and many cases can be misdiagnosed by not addressing the sleep problem first. In the case of ADHD, the symptoms need to significantly impair the child's social, educational & emotional well being. Unfortunately, some medicines that are used to treat ADHD can also hinder sleep and increase the risk of sleep deprivation & restlessness. In such circumstances, non-stimulant medications may be prescribed or your GP may work with you to alter timings and dosage to what works best for your child. Other tips to aid in sleep onset are:

  • Ensuring the room is dark

  • Limiting screen time before bed

  • Focusing on food choices

  • Having a bedtime routine

  • Regular exercise but not too close to bedtime

  • A bath before bed can aid them to feel sleepy

  • Setting the body clock by having regular wake & sleep times

  • Blocking out noise

  • Addressing any anxiety issues

  • Practising ways to aid relaxation

Some children with ADHD are prescribed synthetic melatonin by practitioners to aid with sleep to counteract the the effects of ADHD medication they take during the day. It is important that it is not assumed that their inability to fall asleep at night is a direct result of the ADHD without investigating whether these sleep difficulties are being caused by something else, e.g DSPS (Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome), anxiety issues or sensory issues.

Always consult your GP if you have any concerns relating to your child who is displaying ADHD symptoms.

Words of affirmation: It is important to look at all aspects of a child when diagnosing ADHD

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