You can't ignore buzz words like attention, focus, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Teachers see alarming rates of ADHD in classrooms, doctors see alarming rates in their offices, and parents see alarming rates in their children's schools, playdates and even homes. Research has been done over the last twenty years as these levels have come to national crisis level. A growing number of researchers are proposing an answer that sounds surprisingly too simple, yet makes tremendous sense.
Related: Study: ADHD Is A Brain Disorder
According to an article in the Washington Post, researcher Sandra Kooij suggested in a paper presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Conference in Paris that when day and night rhythms in children are disturbed, so are other things, such as temperature, movement and meal times. These changes can lead one to exhibit inattentiveness and other behavioral challenges, that Kooij believes could mimic ADHD symptoms.
Looking at people's natural cycles of sleep and wake - circadian rhythms - Kooij saw that those with ADHD had melatonin levels rise 1.5 hours later in the evening than people without ADHD did. Because of this, they fell asleep later and rated less sleep overall, which could then affect day and night rhythm.
Kooij's research suggests that ADHD may actually be the misdiagnosis in cases where a lack of sleep was the obvious and simple reason behind ADHD behaviors. Researchers in recent years have looked at how the age of technology is affecting children's sleep habits, as well as how today's student's involvement in extra-curricular activities may affect their sleep.
In her presentation, Kooij said that sleeplessness and ADHD may be two sides of the same coin, saying that more and more evidence suggests that some children diagnosed with ADHD actually may simply suffer from lack of sleep, insomnia or other sleeping disorders like apnea or obstructed breathing. Kooij says that based on this, she wonders whether or not ADHD itself is a sleep disorder, and should be looked at and treated entirely differently.
Professor of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York Karen Bonuck published a study of 11,000 children in 2012. The study found that in children who had sleep issues, 40-100% were more likely than those without to have behaviors that looked like symptoms of ADHD by the time they were seven. Bonuck said that there is a lot of evidence that behavior in children is affected by sleep.
Her research was so eye-opening, the NIH started a campaign to encourage more sleep for children. Finding that some preschoolers were often asleep at 11 p.m. but up before 8 a.m., many realized that children were getting less than nine hours of sleep a night, which was a significant amount less than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for that age.
Related: ADHD is Real, But is Your Child's Diagnosis?
That said, ADHD specialist William Pelham directs the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University and says that while some children with sleep issues may be misdiagnosed with having ADHD, he believes that the number of children to be small. He has noticed more and more children with ADHD and sleep issues in the last few years, but believes that to be an issue within the pharmaceutical industry as children are taking stimulants that last 12 hours.
For children who are sensitive to medicines, those stimulants could work even longer, and that could account for sleep issues in children who truly do have ADHD.