teen adhd and sleep

ADHD and Sleep Disturbances in Youth

September 21, 2017

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurobehavioral developmental condition that can manifest in symptoms such as inattentiveness, impulsiveness, mood swings and hyperactivity. Those with ADHD are more likely to also have problems with sleep disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety. The condition affects between two and five percent of the population.

Sleep Disruption in ADHD

Many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD report that their kids have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Children and adolescents with ADHD are three times more likely to have sleep disorders than those without.

For many years it was thought that sleep disorders were caused by the ADHD. Recent studies may show the two disorders to be more closely intertwined than previously indicated.

The Natural Sleep Cycle

Sleep is regulated by the body in a 24-hour cycle. The sleep cycle is an internal response to light and darkness, but can also be affected by external factors such as temperature. This 24-hour cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. Brainwave activity, cell regeneration, and hormones are all linked to this cycle. An internal clock determines the sleeping and eating schedules of all animals. This natural rhythm appears to be disrupted in those with ADHD.

Delayed Circadian Rhythm

teen adhd and sleep Proposing a new theory, scientists are suggesting that the sleep problems associated with ADHD may be caused by the lack of a regular circadian rhythm. Those with ADHD are shown to have a delay in their body’s production of melatonin, the hormone in the body responsible for a healthy sleep cycle.

Blurring the Lines

  • 75 percent of children and adults with ADHD, the production of melatonin is delayed by 1.5 hours. This will reduce the duration of quality sleep.
  • 50 percent of those with ADHD had higher rates of daytime sleepiness than those without the disorder.
  • Those with ADHD are often more alert and awake at night, which is opposite of most of the population.
  • 70 percent of those with ADHD are oversensitive to light, which further reinforces the theory of a circadian shift.
  • The core body temperature changes associated with the sleep cycle are also delayed.
  • Many benefit from taking melatonin in the evening or respond to light therapy in the morning.
  • Up to half of the children diagnosed with ADHD have signs of sleep-disordered breathing, such as snoring and sleep apnea.

Sleep disturbances have been shown to cause hyperactivity, behavior problems, and impulsiveness. For now, the link between ADHD and sleep disorders are intriguing. Additional studies are needed to determine if the sleep disturbances are a result of ADHD or the cause of the disorder.

If disturbances in the circadian rhythm are found to be a contributing factor in the development of ADHD, it may also be possible that disturbances in the sleep cycles could contribute to other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

ADHD and Mental Health

Research shows that 2/3 of young people diagnosed with ADHD also have a mental health diagnosis.

  • Young people living with ADHD face additional academic and social stresses that their peers do not. Often Teens with ADHD develop depression and anxiety, but because many of the symptoms are similar, it may be difficult to distinguish between one condition and the next.
  • Many teens do not have the emotional intelligence to identify their feelings of shame, anger or frustration and may deny their own responsibility for own difficulties. Quite often, they begin to blame those around them. They may not be able to express negative feelings constructively.
  • Teens with ADHD have a two to three times greater risk of developing behavioral and substance abuse problems. In fact, many adults with substance abuse problems learn of their ADHD diagnosis while getting treatment for their substance dependencies.

Young people with ADHD will often require additional help from their parents, teachers, school administrators, doctors and mental health care providers. They face unique challenges.

Teen ADHD can sometimes trigger negative feelings leading to isolation, disrupted social skills, and poor academic progress. This can lead to further destructive behaviors and even chemical abuse. A nationally accredited treatment center with a staff educated on the unique needs of the adolescent can tailor treatment to the specific requirements of that child, even when other forms of treatment have proven unsuccessful. Residential treatment programs are often necessary and beneficial.