Kids With ADHD: Could They Simply Be Tired?

boy nappingIn what could potentially be good news for some of the children who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a doctor claims to have a cure -- more sleep. Dr. Vatsal Thakkar believes that more than a third of children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD when what they're really suffering from is sleep deprivation.

I'm sure there are plenty of parents who have been through countless doctors, medications, and other treatments with their children who will bristle at this assertion. However, he's not saying that ADHD isn't a real thing for some people, he just believe that "a substantial proportion of cases are really sleep disorders in disguise."  Interesting.

His theory makes a sense too. Thakkar, who's a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, told the Daily Mail that the symptoms of both (hyperactivity, difficulty focusing, aggression, and forgetfulness) are quite similar -- especially in children. Another doctor, Dr. Neil Stanley, agreed with the theory and told the paper that as ADHD diagnoses have risen, kids have gotten less sleep. He said kids today get at least one less hour of sleep than they did 100 years ago. Others studies have also made a link between sleep disorders and ADHD

More from The Stir: ADD/ADHD in Girls: 10 Symptoms to Consider

Additionally, Thakkar says that it may be easier for doctors to hand out an ADHD diagnosis than to tell parents their kids need better sleep habits.

For some children it may be a diagnosis of convenience. Yet by misdiagnosing sleep-deprived patients as having ADHD, we are not only doing a disservice to those who really have ADHD but may be treating thousands of patients with poor sleep with medications designed to control or modify daytime behavior.

I don't doubt that ADHD is a very real and chronic condition for some children that no amount of sleep will cure, but if you could cure your child's symptoms with better sleep habits, wouldn't you want to? The CDC estimates that 3-7 percent of school-age children have ADHD. Between 2003 and 2007, the rate of reported cases in children ages 4-17 increased 22 percent. And with one of the prominent treatments for it  being drugs like Ritalin -- that have side effects -- some more z's sounds like a much better option. Hopefully there will be more research into this area soon.

Do you think your child's ADHD really could be sleep deprivation?


Image via davitydave/Flickr

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redK8... redK8blueSt8

I think it is definitely a possibility and it'd be worth exploring that option before jumping right to drugging my kid. It totally makes sense, kids today get far less sleep than they need. I remember 25 years ago kids used to get up at around 7am and go to bed by 8pm. Now they're up at 5am to go to daycare in time for their parents to get to work, then are up until 11pm in order to spend time with their parents after they get off from work and eat. I can see it in my own kids' behavior when for a few nights in a row they stay up even 1 hour later than normal.

SuzyB... SuzyBarno

I absolutely think that sleep has a direct affect on childrens behavior. People think I'm crazy when I say my kids sleep at 7pm and wake around 630am. But I swear if I try to stretch them to 8pm bedtime they will both be up at 5am the next morning and like hell on wheels for 3 days!!! My husbands cousin has no nap times for her kids and no bedtimes and her kids are a terror!! I just think that rest is very good for kids who are active and are learning on a daily basis. Their little brains need the rest.

JessL... JessLogansMommy

My kids are going through sleep deprivation right now due to birthday festivities, end of school year activities and baseball.  They are little terrors today!  I know that they need a few nights of consistent sleep to get back to normal. But yes, my kids act crazy, hyper, act out and just generally don't listen when they are tired. 

lulou lulou

As a 3 time sleep deprived new mom, I can see that definitely as the factor, or a contributing factor, along with crappy nutrition.  Plus when I am sleep deprived myself - i crave crappy food.

Kate Cooley

Absolutely! There are so many factors - including amount of sleep - that affect kids' behavior and focusing abilities. Making them take mood- and personality-altering drugs isn't the answer in about 75-90% of these "diagnoses".


Autumn Breeze Engh

I think that kids definitely act up when they don't get enough sleep, but I DON'T agree that a little more sleep is the answer for these kids.  The meds for ADHD are stimulants.  You know your kid has ADHD (and not just symptoms) if you give them a stimulant and they mellow out instead of perk up.  That's not sleep depreviation.  As the mom of 2 ADHD kids and YEARS of doctor visits (including every home-made remedy and "way of doing things" under the sun), I'm a little pissed that I'm constantly having to defend that ADHD really exists and isn't just my over-reaction or a lack of parenting.  

ohmandy ohmandy

i definitely agree that its over diagnosed... but also agree that in some cases its very real.  if i ever ran into a dr who felt my kid had adhd id start with everything OTHER than medication.  and this makes sense!

Andrea Precht

I think ADD could be a lot of things. If a kid is sad, anguished or distress s/he'll never say: "I'm anguished"; s/he will move aimlessly and inattentive. Sometimes is easier to see the symptoms and have a quick answer than really try to understand a little kid. It's part of our consumer and instant gratification culture: A pill it's quicker, easier and allow you to buy an instant solution.

ladyr... ladyraven16

I wish that was my sons problem. We looked at sleep disorders, nutrition and a number of other things with a variety of doctor for 18mo before I allowed the dx they had been telling me all along. Now, his life is truly better and he is much happier. The medication made a huge difference in his life and he has no side effects which I'm glad for.

nonmember avatar Shannon

Very young children need 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep. School age kids need around 10-11 --- so this doesn't really surprise me. I also think it's unrealistic to expect kids to sit in a classroom all day, especially now that so many schools have done away with recess.

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