Children With ADHD Sleep Both Poorly and Less

AARHUS, Denmark -- May 5, 2016 -- A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research has now documented that there is some truth to the claim by parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that their children have more difficulty falling asleep and that they sleep more poorly than other children.

Studies have shown that up to 70% of parents of children with ADHD report that the children have difficulty falling asleep and that they spend a long time putting them to bed. However, scientific studies that measure sleep quality using electrodes have so far failed to demonstrate a correlation between sleep quality and ADHD.

The current study shows that children with ADHD actually do sleep worse than other children.

“Our study will confirm what many parents have experienced, which is that children with ADHD take longer to fall asleep at night,” said Anne Virring Sørensen, PhD, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark. “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.”

Two out of 3 children with ADHD have 1 or more additional psychiatric diagnoses in addition to ADHD, which probably increases the risk of sleep disturbance. But even when the researchers looked at the children who have only been diagnosed with ADHD, they see a big difference in the sleep patterns of the control group and the ADHD group.

The researchers also studied sleep patterns during the day. The findings surprised the researchers.

“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 Dr. 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 behaviour for not being able to doze off during the day.”

The fact that researchers have not previously been able to demonstrate a correlation between ADHD and poorer sleep could be due to different measuring methods.

“In our study the children had electrodes attached to their heads for what is known as a polysomnography at the hospital in the afternoon, but they slept in their familiar home surroundings,” explained Dr. Sørensen. “In previous studies children have been admitted to specialist sleep centres at hospital to measure sleep via a polysomnographic study.”

Many children with ADHD are currently given medicine to help them fall asleep. Dr. Sørensen emphasised that none of the children received medicine while taking part in the study.

“I think many parents and clinicians are very pleased to receive confirmation that poor sleep patterns can now be demonstrated and that there is probably a correlation with the ADHD diagnosis,” she said. “The next step is, of course, to find out where this correlation lies so we can develop better treatments in the long term. Our survey is an important foundation for further studies.”

The study included 76 children with ADHD with a mean age of 9.6 years. The control group consisted of 25 healthy children. Outpatient sleep examinations were conducted with electrodes during the night and multiple sleep latency tests were conducted to measure how quickly the children fell asleep (4 times, 20 minutes on the same day).

SOURCE: Aarhus University
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