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Challenge: Sleep Solutions

When Poor Sleep Looks Like ADHD

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Before I saw it myself, I did not believe that “over-tired” children acted hyperactive. But then I had my son, who, even at nearly five years old, would prefer to never sleep because he is afraid he will miss out on some fun, going on somewhere. Let the record show, he did not get this from my side of the gene pool.


From the time my son was a baby, I would see him get wild, slap-happy and goofy when tired. Someone told me that, when exhausted, children’s bodies release adrenaline, based on the body’s instinct to stay alert in the face of exhaustion. Apparently the body figures there must be some danger out there, and one needs to stay vigilant. I am not sure if this is true, but it certainly makes sense based on how my child acts when tired.

It also goes a long way to explain the behavior of many of the children with whom I work as a learning specialist. A majority of my students have a diagnosis of ADHD; on a day-to-day basis, I see the telltale signs of their disorder, including over-activity, moodiness, impulsive behavior, disorganization, lack of focus and vacillating energy levels.

Hang on. That sounds like the characteristics of sleep deprivation in children.

It turns out, many children previously diagnosed with ADHD are being diagnosed with a sleep disorder instead. Many of the leading experts on ADHD are now including information about the child’s sleeping habits into the diagnostic process. Greater accuracy in diagnosing both ADHD and sleep disorders means more children will get the help they need.

Sometimes, we know when our children’s sleep habits are out of whack. And sometimes we don’t. While some children stay in bed for the requisite number of hours, they may not be getting good quality sleep. Sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy are often misdiagnosed as ADHD.

If your child is not getting sound sleep or if you notice restlessness, snoring or irregular breathing, talk to your pediatrician. If you have concerns about your child’s attention, impulsivity, ability to focus and/or energy level, consider looking into his/her sleep habits as well as ADHD. Helpful organizations include CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) www.chadd.org and the National Sleep Foundation www.sleepfoundation.org


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