A group of researchers from Denmark have found that children with ADHD fall asleep less easily than other children and that their sleep quality tends to be poorer. These results confirm what many parents knew already and may help researchers craft treatments to help children with ADHD sleep more easily.
The results of this study were published in the Journal of Sleep Research.
The research study was led by Anne Virring Sørensen, of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital, Risskov. Sørensen and her colleagues looked at 76 children, 25 of which were healthy and 51 of which were diagnosed with ADHD.
To determine whether sleep quality differed between children with and without ADHD, the researchers conducted two kinds of studies. In the first study, the researchers measured each child’s brain activity during the night using electrodes. In the second study, the researchers used multiple sleep latency tests to measure how quickly the children fell asleep.
Compared to the children without ADHD, children with ADHD took longer to fall asleep at night and experienced a greater amount of disturbed sleep, including less deep sleep. These sleep issues were still significant even when the researchers controlled for symptoms of psychiatric disorders that are commonly diagnosed with ADHD, such as depression and anxiety.
“Our study will confirm … that children with ADHD take longer to fall asleep at night. With our measurements we can also see that these children experience more disturbed sleep including less deep sleep. If you only look at length of sleep, children in the ADHD group sleep for 45 minutes less than children in the control group,” explained Sørensen.
Surprisingly, children with ADHD fell asleep faster than the control group during the daytime.
“Unlike in the evening, we could see that there was a tendency for the children with ADHD to fall asleep faster during the day than the children in the control group,” said Sørensen “This is somewhat surprising when you take into account that ADHD is associated with characteristics such as hyperactivity. But this hyperactivity could be compensatory behavior for not being able to doze off during the day.”
What does this mean?
The results of this study indicate that children with ADHD may have more trouble falling asleep than children without ADHD. They may also experience less slow-wave sleep than average, suggesting that their quality of sleep is diminished.
So far, this is the first study to find a link between ADHD and sleep disturbances. Sørensen and colleagues suspect that this is because they allowed the children to fall asleep in their own home rather than in a stressful hospital environment. Compared to previous studies where children were admitted to sleep centers to measure their sleep, in Sørensen’s study the children had electrodes attached to their heads for a polysomnography that took please at a hospital during the afternoon and were then able to sleep at home in familiar surroundings.
More research will be necessary to confirm these findings, and even more research will be necessary before clinicians learn how to improve sleep quality in this population. Still, these results may be reassuring to parents who have long suspected that children with ADHD have poorer-than-average sleep patterns.
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About the author
Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at email@example.com.
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