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Posted on: June 20, 2019 at 6:49 pm
Last updated: June 21, 2019 at 11:46 am

Mother of four and creator of the Your Modern Family Blog, Becky Mansfield recently shared her experience with her child’s troubling behavior. Her son suddenly began struggling with insomnia, which she and her husband initially thought was linked to a bad case of hand foot and mouth disease.

But when he continued to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, crash in the evening, Mansfield suspected something more serious was wrong. For the next few years, she tried every solution she could to help her son’s insomnia and ensuing grumpiness. He became a “hot head”. His behavior was unpredictable at best and tempered at worst. (1)

Well-meaning friends asked Mansfield if perhaps her son had an undiagnosed case of ADHD. Though she was a Child Development Therapist herself, Mansfield turned to another therapist to help get to the bottom of her son’s struggles.

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After many interviews and tests, they conducted a sleep study, which revealed that her son had Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).

“What the doctor told us next explained the grumpiness, moodiness, temper tantrums in 11 little words: He is waking up 8 times every hour, all night long,” Mansfield writes. (1)

Mansfield later went through a similar journey with another son, whose ADHD symptoms eventually became properly diagnosed as resulting from disrupted sleep. In fact, it was a family dentist who discovered that the child had been grinding his teeth so often, they were severely worn down.

This mom’s experiences prompted her to dig into the research between behavioral issues and sleep disorders and children.

“Sleep deprivation in children and ADHD exhibit the same symptoms. The EXACT SAME SYMPTOMS. ⇒ Studies have been done (thanks, NIH) where they took medicated ADHD kids, fixed the sleep disordered breathing, and within 6 months 70% of the children had seen a resolution in symptoms and were no longer medicated.

As in, their ‘ADHD’ was cured. Because it wasn’t ADHD. In 70% of children. Let that sink in. This means that 70% of those children had been misdiagnosed with ADHD when they actually had a treatable sleep disorder.” she writes. (1)

Related: Essential Oils and ADHD

The Link Between ADHD and Sleep Disorders

The research Mansfield referred to is a  2017 publication by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. In it, the authors summarize, “If you review the evidence, it looks more and more like ADHD and sleeplessness are 2 sides of the same physiological and mental coin.” (2) It is thought that up to 75% of children and adults have sleeping problems. (2)

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Sleep disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome are common in both children and adults diagnosed with ADHD. (3)

One recent study found that children diagnosed with ADHD struggled more with daytime sleepiness than children without an ADHD diagnosis. Another study found that half of the children diagnosed with ADHD had signs of sleep-disordered breathing, compared to 22% percent of kids without an ADHD diagnosis. More research points to restless leg syndrome as being significantly more common among kids with an ADHD diagnosis.

In a classic ‘chicken or egg’ dilemma, common medications prescribed for ADHD can interrupt normal sleeping habits, while sleep deprivation will often present as worsened ADHD symptoms, including irritability, impulsive behavior, and great difficulty concentrating. (4)

Tips for Parents

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Parents who are concerned about their child’s troubled behavior can look for the signs of sleep deprivation, and speak to their family doctors about testing for a sleep disorder or behavioral disorder. Signs of sleep disorders in children include: (5)

  • Snoring
  • Breathing pauses during sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Problems with sleeping through the night
  • Difficulty staying awake during the day
  • Unexplained decrease in daytime performance
  • Unusual events during sleep such as sleepwalking or nightmares

Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, recommends that parents keep strict boundaries for screen time to help promote healthy sleep for their kids (and themselves).  Dr. Thakkar suspects the rise of technology use coinciding with the rise of ADHD diagnoses is no coincidence. (6)

Continue Reading: Handheld Screen Time Linked to Delayed Speech Development

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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Emese Graham
Health Expert
Emese believes women's health, mental health, and spiritual health really matter, so she jumps at the chance to bring those conversations to light. In her spare time, Emese enjoys finding challenging workout videos on Youtube (because gyms are hard for introverts), and she's all about getting creative in the kitchen and making recipes a little different every time - who needs measuring cups?

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