Is Your Child’s Problem ADHD or A Sleep Disorder?
As we recently reported in this blog, the number of ADHD diagnoses among children and young teens have rapidly increased in the past decade–a stunning 66% between 2000 and 2010. While some suggest the increase is the result of better educated parents and doctors spotting ADHD, others believe that at least some of the increase can be attributed to misdiagnoses.
Writing in The New York Times, Kate Murphy notes:
Many children are given a diagnosis of ADHD researchers say, when in fact they have another problem: a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea. The confusion may account for a significant number of ADHD cases in children, and the drugs used to treat them may only be exacerbating the problem.
Citing a new study published recently in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that children who had sleep issues due to apnea or common breathing problems such as snoring and mouth breathing were “40% to 100% more likely than normal breathers to develop behavioral problems resembling ADHD.”
A Little Deprivation Can Be Problematic
According to sleep experts, it doesn’t take much sleep loss for children to manifest behaviors associated with ADHD. Just one half hour less per night can have a detrimental effect on behavior—regardless of whether the loss is due to a sleep disorder or simply staying up too late watching TV or playing video games.
Having a correct diagnosis is fundamental to proper treatment. Children with sleep problems who are mistakenly treated with stimulant medication because they have been misdiagnosed with ADHD are at risk for even greater sleeplessness. When used improperly, ADHD medications can cause insomnia, thus exacerbating the problem.
With so much at stake, both parents and doctors must learn more about the signs and symptoms of sleep problems and how to differentiate them from behavioral issues such as ADHD. In her article, Attention Problems May Be Sleep-Related Murphy points out that, “Of the 10,000 members of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, only 500 have specialty training in pediatric sleep issues.” That leaves doctors to rely on parent reports of sleep concerns, which also may not be forthcoming. Adds Murphy:
Parents themselves often are uninformed about healthy sleep habits. A study conducted last year by researchers at Penn State University-Harrisburg and published in The Journal of Sleep Research showed that of 170 participating parents, fewer than 10 percent could correctly answer basic questions like the number of hours of sleep a child needs.
The National Sleep Foundation offers the following guidelines:
AGE SLEEP NEEDS
Newborns (0-2 mos.) 12-18 hrs.
Infants (3-11 mos.) 14-15 hrs.
Toddlers (1-3 yrs.) 12-14 hrs.
Preschoolers (3-5 yrs.) 11-13 hrs.
School-Age (5-10 yrs.) 10-11 hrs.
Teens (10-17 yrs.) 8.5-9.5 hrs.
Adults 7-9 hrs.