TheInvestigatingParent

A parents' resource to research-based information on parenting

Mis-diagnosed ADHD or Sleep Disorder? March 12, 2012

Did you know that the symptoms of sleeplessness are so alike those of Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), that many children have lost their diagnosis of ADHD simply by having their sleep treated? For example, tantrums, hyperactivity, inattention, and other daytime problem behaviours are common symptoms of sleep loss in children (well, adults too for that matter – we just know how to control ourselves better), and also symptoms of ADHD. In fact, sleep researchers put out a call to Pediatricians in a well known journal in 2011 to encourage them to question parents about their child’s sleep habits before giving a potential mis-diagnosis of ADHD. If your child, or anyone you know has a child who has been labeled with ADHD – take a look at their sleep habits before resorting to other treatment. Are their sleep needs being met? Do they seem tired or groggy when they get up in the morning? Are they showing signs of being tired long before their regular bedtime?

Could you imagine your child being labeled with ADHD and medicated, on an IEP at school, having many behavioural problems, when all along it was due to a sleeping problem? This is not to say that all cases of ADHD are not real cases of ADHD, but it’s significant enough that it’s worth a second investigation.

My son is a little more flexible with his sleep now that he’s getting a little older, but still has his moments. If he got to stay up really late because of a holiday or a family get together, my husband and I always know we are going to pay for it later. Last summer his cousins came out to the lake to visit us one day, and they were having so much fun together we let him stay up until 9:30 (bedtime was usually 7). The next few days were filled with CRAZY tantrums every time he didn’t get something he wanted, or didn’t want to do something. Needless to say, he went to bed early several nights in a row, and all was fixed within a week. But imagine what his behaviour could have been like had we let him stay up past his bedtime night after night? If I didn’t know what his sleep needs were, that could very well have been our life. And I wouldn’t have known what to do with him or how to cope, and it’s very easy to see how that would spiral into a case of ADHD when I took that complaint to the Pediatrician. Because I have been so diligent with my son’s sleep needs, when he starts to behave that way I know he either needs to go to bed early at night, or he has a possible ear infection (that’s another story).

-Kirsten

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2 Responses to “Mis-diagnosed ADHD or Sleep Disorder?”

  1. Kirsten- do you have any good books on this topic to recommend to parents? I work with many children diagnosed with ADHD and have often wondered about the sleep-attention correlation.
    Thanks!
    Hillary

    • that’s a good question as my main sources are actually journal articles, not really accessible for most parents. I’m going to cover it in the book I’m publishing on sleep training, hopefully out by September. But in the meantime I’ll look into it and get back to you.


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