More Sleep Can Improve ADHD Symptoms
A common behavior disorder that affects 8% to 10% of U.S. school-aged children, ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — has been linked to children’s failure to get enough sleep. In a new study (see our April 29 post), researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland found that children who typically received less than 7.7 hours of sleep per night were significantly more likely to develop ADHD than children who slept longer. The study is the first to pinpoint length of sleep alone as a source of behavioral symptoms.
Interestingly, the study found that parents regularly over-reported the amount of sleep their children received compared to objectively measured results, suggesting both that most parents are unaware of their children’s actual wake-sleep cycles or that a “social desirability bias” promotes over-reporting. Despite such discrepancies, study results clearly found a direct, measurable, causal link between short sleep cycles and increased symptoms of ADHD.
“Even though we hypothesized that sleep duration would affect behavioral symptoms, we were somewhat surprised that the effect was so very, very clear,” principal researcher Dr. E. Juulia Paavonen told Medscape Psychiatry in an April 28, 2009, online article about the study.
The study found the lowest risk of developing ADHD symptoms among children who regularly received an average night’s sleep characterized by at least 7.7 to 9.4 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Parents who are able to help their children establish and maintain adequate sleep cycles of 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night may be able to significantly reduce their children’s risk of developing ADHD. In children who already exhibit symptoms of the disorder, maintaining adequate sleep patterns may help to control and/or alleviate symptoms, researchers believe. In an independent European study, lengthening children’s sleep cycles by just 30 minutes per night was found to significantly improve cognitive and attention behavior with observable improvement exhibited in less than one week.
Here are some things parents can do to help their children get the sleep they need:
- Establish a regular bedtime.
- Decrease activity about 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Ban TVs, video games and other over-stimulating activities from the bedroom.
- The bedroom should be comfortable — well ventilated and slightly cool with a nightlight.
- Establish a soothing bedtime routine — bath, brushing teeth, toileting, story time, prayers.