Does Your Child Really Have ADHD? Perhaps an unchecked sleep problem could be to blame.

Through the years, a growing number of fidgety, forgetful, and unfocused children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 5 million children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with the condition, making it one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents. This has even prompted declara-tions of an ADHD epidemic in America. Recent research, though, suggests that a child’s sleep patterns could partly be to blame. “Sleep disorders may contribute to behaviors that resemble ADHD during the day,” says Kevin Smith, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. A study published in March in Pediatrics analyzed more than 11,000 children over a period of six years, beginning at 6 months of age, and revealed that children suffering from sleep-disordered breathing—including snoring, breathing through the mouth, and apnea, where the child seems to stop breathing for several seconds at a time—had a higher incidence of behavioral and emotional issues such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness, depression, and anxiety. In fact, they were 50 to 90 percent more likely to develop ADHD-like symptoms than were normal breathers. And those children who suffered most severely from all three sleep-disordered breathing behaviors at around age 2 and a half had the highest risk for hyperactivity “Parents may even wish to video or audio tape the problematic behavior as a first step.” A separate study released in June examined the long-term impact of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—where the airway has collapsed or is blocked during sleep—in teenagers, and it revealed similar results.

“It’s’s not known if children who have OSA aremisdiagnosed with ADHD, but school persoand and clinicians should consider an matador’ for sleep-disordercd breathing ivhen a 4:,hild exhibits pro blmis with attention and hyperactivity. At the very least, OSA symptoms could exacerbate ADHD symptoms.”

If there is a misdiagnosis of ADHD, this can be problematic when one considers the fact that medications used to treat ADHD, like Vyvanse and Ritalin, are stimulants and can cause insomnia. In September of last year, the National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that the prescribed use of stimulant medications for ADHD in children ages 6 to 12 rose from 4.2 percent in 1996 to 5.1 percent in 2008. For children ages 13 to 18, that rate increased from 2.3 percent in 1996 to 4.9 percent in 2008. Sleep is vital for the growth and development of all children, and in light of current research, parents of children with ADHD should pay espe-cially close attention. A solution for their child could be less Adderall and more zzzs.