Sleep, Kids, and ADHD

Jun 21, 2010

I was watching a documentary on sleep the other night, and I was so fascinated. The documentary discussed the importance of sleep, the adverse effects of not getting enough, and revealed a study conducted on a young man forced to function on three hours of sleep a day for one week. The man took tests of intelligence, competence, and psychological wellness before the experiment began, and then repeated the tests at the end of the week when extremely sleep deprived. The results were astounding.

Not only did he fail every test miserably the second time, the results on the psychological assessment indicated that he was actually going crazy. There was irreversible damage occurring in his brain, as a result of not getting enough sleep. So, what does this have to do with kids? One of the researchers said something that immediately caught my attention. His deduction based on all of his research is that in adults who are sleep deprived, the presenting problems are fatigue, lethargy, and slower functioning. In kids, however, sleep deprivation manifests itself in increased energy, hyperactivity, and distractibility. Interestingly, those characteristics sound strangely similar to the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Hmmm.

Additionally, research has shown that over the course of the last twenty years, kids have lost ten minutes of sleep every year. So, a child born in 1990 would have had an average of three hours and twenty minutes more of sleep per day than a child will born in 2010. I would also argue that in the last twenty years, the frequency with which children have been diagnosed with ADHD has steadily risen. One cannot help but question the potential connection between the two.

I have written previous articles about the dangers of over-scheduling and over-committing, creating overly tired and overly stressed kids. I have also written about making sure your kids are getting enough sleep. So, in a culture that struggles to cut down on extra-curriculars and make earlier bedtimes, we are grooming our children to compensate for their exhaustion by acting out-of-control.

Unfortunately, there are not many things I can recommend that I haven’t already. The basics are setting a schedule for bedtimes, giving kids down-time without obligations, and not minimizing the importance of sleep for your kids or yourself. On a positive note, research does show that sleep deprivation, although detrimental to emotional, social, and psychological well-being in children, is almost completely reversible. All your kids need is a few good nights of sleep, and then a consistent pattern of enough rest. If only other problems were so easily fixable!

So, here’s to a good night’s sleep!

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