What if some of those children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD are, in fact, suffering from another disorder altogether – chronic sleep deprivation?

That’s the important question posed by Dr Chris Seton (Paediatric & Adolescent Sleep Physician and co founder SleepShack) who makes a powerful argument for the need to consider chronic sleep problems as a possible cause for behavioural symptoms rather than jumping to a diagnosis of ADHD and subsequent medication.

Is it lack of sleep or ADHD?

In Australia, the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing reported ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) to be present in 6.7% of 10-14 year olds and 7% of 15-19 year olds.

This is a condition marked by problems with concentration, impulse control, organisation, and memory. It can be a frustrating and difficult condition, stigmatising and often isolating for those children who suffer from it.

However Dr Seton points out, many of the symptoms of ADHD in teenagers are often similar to symptoms of insufficient sleep.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation are the same as ADHD

A diagnosis of ADHD in children frequently comes about after a child exhibits some or all of behavioral symptoms such as these:

  • Lack of focus: difficulty paying attention, problems listening, forgetfulness, disorganisation
  • Agitated, excitable, impulsive behavior: excessive talking, inability to sit still, difficulty playing quietly, tendency to interrupt, difficulty sharing or waiting for one’s turn, aggressive, angers easily

However there’s particularly strong evidence from recent studies that show children who are sleep deprived exhibit many of these same symptoms – and suffer many of the same behavioral problems – as children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD.

Dr Seton knows from his clinical practice that children who are not getting enough sleep every night have higher rates of behavioral problems including difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, communication problems, and aggressiveness. These children are also more likely to have learning difficulties and low academic performance than those who sleep well.

Impact of using electronic devices at night on your child

Dr Seton further points out; the escalation of ADHD cases in the 1990s and 2000s coincided with the rise of the digital age, and the widespread use of personal technology that now pervades your child’s daily lives. These devices (laptops, tablets and mobile phones) that enable so much convenience and connection, also threaten the quality and quantity of your child’s sleep.

Additionally, the night-time exposure to light they emit interferes with your child’s release of melatonin, disrupting sleep cycles and diminishing time spent in the deepest, most restorative phases of sleep. Dr Seton advises now more than ever before, you must work to create the darkness that is so essential to deep sleep for your child. Keeping your child’s bedroom, gadget-free sanctuaries for sleep is one important way to guard against them feeling the affects of chronic sleep deprivation.

How to help your teenager

If you think your teenager is sleep deprived the first critical step is considering why your child is having trouble sleeping and addressing this core issue. Helping them get even 1 hour extra sleep each night will have a significant and positive impact on their behavior and cognitive ability. They’ll be happier, calmer and have a greater ability to pay attention and learn at school.

If you child is exhibiting poor behaviour, the solution for your moody teenager may lie in an online, medically proven, sleep rescheduling program found at SleepShack offering a personalised sleep treatment plan and medical strategies to maximise your child’s sleep.

All of which have been clinically proven to correct your child’s sleep deprivation and lead to a happier child.

Author – Ginni Seton, Manager at SleepShack