Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sleep less, spend less time in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, and have a harder time falling asleep than youngsters without attention problems, according to research published in the journal Sleep.
Experts say that making an extra effort to ensure a child gets enough sleep, such as being relatively strict about bedtimes, could help reduce his or her symptoms. "Be a detective, and look for what specifically is going on," says Judith Owens, MD, who directs the pediatric sleep clinic and the ADHD clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, and was not involved in the study. "It's really important to try to uncover what the underlying issue is."
However, parents should not expect better sleep to be a "miracle cure," says Dr. Owens. The sleep problems are not considered to be a cause of ADHD, though they may add to a child's attention problems or difficulty with school; about 25 to 50 percent of children and adolescents with ADHD are thought to have difficulty sleeping.
They looked at 15 children, 7 to 11 years old, diagnosed with ADHD and 23 children without the disorder, tracking how long it took them to fall asleep, how long they slept, and how much time they spent in each stage of sleep. Parents also filled out questionnaires on whether their child had sleep problems, such as anxiety about falling asleep and daytime sleepiness. None of the children were taking ADHD medication at the time of the study.
Overall, the kids with ADHD slept about a half-hour less, on average, and spent 15 fewer minutes in REM sleep. The control group spent about 19 percent of their sleep time in the REM stage, compared to about 17 percent for the ADHD group. The children with ADHD also took longer to fall asleep, were more anxious about sleep, and less likely to get enough sleep.
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