ADHD or sleep deprivation?

jumping-on-bed-copyWhen we think of a childwith ADHD, we think of a child who is hyperactive, loud, unfocused, disorganized, forgetful, easily distracted, makes careless mistakes, does not seem to listen, does not follow through with directions, fidgets, talks excessively, blurts out answers, has trouble waiting his turn and acts impulsively in general.

Children who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation will look incredibly similar.

Professionals in the fields of medicine and psychology are unclear as to the relationship between ADHD and sleep problems. Does one cause the other? Can a child have both? Which came first?

Alas, we probably won’t have clear-cut answers anytime soon. Until we do, let’s ponder the New York Times article “Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit” by psychiatrist Vastal Thakkar. Dr. Thakkar poses an interesting question for us: What if children who are suffering from sleep deprivation are mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD?

Dr. Thakker is quick to mention that many diagnoses of ADHD may very likely be sound and appropriate. However, it is worth noting that a majority of the children diagnosed with ADHD also have sleep-disordered breathing, restless leg syndrome or another condition that causes their sleep cycles to be interrupted.

What does this mean for us as parents? If there is some concern that your child has difficulty with attention, focus and/or impulsivity, looking into his sleep cycle may be a worthwhile component of the investigation. Sleep studies are more complicated than a visit to the pediatrician, which is all that is needed for a diagnosis of ADHD. But it may be worth exploring if you notice your child snoring and moving around excessively during the night.

Helpful resources:

Dr.Thakkar’s NYT article

Info from the National Sleep Foundation

From everyone’s favorite manual for self-diagnosis, WedMD

Best of luck, Warrior Parents!

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