Shock Horror: Sleep Deprived Children Diagnosed with ADHD Instead!



What upsets me more than anything when it comes the the explosion of ADHD diagnoses of young children, is that many doctors seem to dismiss other possible causes such as sleep deprivation, family issues and diet way too readily:

More children – and adults – than ever are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Yet many of those may not have the behavioural disorder but could instead be suffering from sleep deprivation, says a leading U.S. doctor. He estimates more than a third of children and a quarter of adults diagnosed with ADHD actually have sleep problems.

Sleep deprivation, especially in children, does not – as might be expected – cause lethargy, but very similar problems to ADHD, including hyperactivity, an inability to focus, aggression and forgetfulness.

The similarity between the symptoms, coupled with many doctors’ poor understanding of sleep disorders, is what is causing the confusion in some patients, says Vatsal Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.

‘While there is no doubt that many people have ADHD, a substantial proportion of cases are really sleep disorders in disguise,’ he says.

ADHD is characterised by problems with attention, concentration and impulsiveness. Around 5 per cent of British children are thought to be affected, with prescriptions for drugs to treat them rising by 70  per cent between 2005 and 2011.

Prescriptions for Ritalin, the most popular drug for ADHD, have quadrupled in the past decade, with children as young as three taking the powerful medication.

ADHD is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of three and seven and is four times more common in boys than girls. In around half of cases, the disorder continues into adult life.

But now some experts are questioning whether the real problem is poor quality sleep. Numerous studies have shown that many children with ADHD also have breathing problems during sleep such as snoring and apnoea – where breathing becomes slow or interrupted by the muscles and soft tissue in the throat collapsing, causing a blockage – and are more likely to have disrupted delta sleep.

This is the deep, rejuvenating kind which starts about 30 to 50 minutes after we fall asleep. Children need delta sleep for proper growth and development.

One study, published in 2004 in the journal Sleep, looked at 34 children with ADHD. Every one showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a handful of the 32 children in the study who didn’t have the disorder.

Meanwhile, a study of more than 11,000 British children published last year found those who suffered breathing problems during sleep in infancy were more likely to have behavioural difficulties later in life.


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