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Improving Sleep in Children: Using Lessons Learned from Children with ADHD

It is probably every single parent out there's hope that come nighttime when they put their little one to sleep, things go smoothly and the child drifts off to sleep without issues.  For a lot of parents, this however is not the case.

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This is especially true of children with ADHD.  A study done by Sung, Hiscock, Sciberras and Efron [1], reported that in Australia 78% of parents stated that their child with ADHD has problems sleeping.

Why do children with ADHD have problems sleeping?

While children with ADHD are more prone to other mental health issues such as anxiety [2] and depression [3], which can both lead to sleeping problems, some ADHD medication can also be a perpetrator [4].

More than the above though, studies have found an association between ADHD and the CLOCK gene [5].  This is the gene that helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, a biological clock we all have that tells us when to go to sleep, when to wake up, and when to eat.  It was shown that children with ADHD are much more prone to having their circadian rhythm disturbed, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Circadian rhythm in all children.

Disturbances in the circadian rhythm can cause sleeping problems in not only children with ADHD, but all children, and in fact all people.  It is influenced by multiple external factors, such as sunlight, temperature and the times at which meals are eaten.

One of the biggest problems is artificial light, in particular blue light.  This stops the production of melatonin in the brain.  Melatonin is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy.  Most electronic devices emit this light, meaning using the device before or in bed is likely to make you feel less tired.

So what can you do?

The first rule to follow (which most parent should know by now), is to keep a good routine.  This includes following the routine over weekends.  Include in your routine switching off electronic devices an hour or two before bedtime, as well as not allowing the devices in the bedroom leading up to bedtime.

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[1] Sung V, Hiscock H, Sciberras E, Efron D. Sleep Problems in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Prevalence and the Effect on the Child and Family. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(4):336–342. doi:10.1001/archpedi.162.4.336
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[2] Matthew A.Jarrett, Thomas H.Ollendick. Child Study Center, Department of Psychology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 460 Turner Street, Suite 207, Blacksburg, VA 24060, United States.

[3] Michael C Meinzer, Jeremy W. Pettit, Chockalingam Viswesvaran. Department of Psychology, Florida International University, USA.

[4] Alice Charach M.D., Abel Ickowicz M.D., Russell Schachar M.D. From the Department of Psychiatry, The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto, and the Brain and Behavior Program, Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto.

[5] Xiaohui XuEmail author, Gerome Breen, Chih-Ken Chen, Yu-Shu Huang, Yu-Yu Wu and Philip Asherson. Association study between a polymorphism at the 3'-untranslated region of CLOCK gene and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 2010.

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