ADHD and the Body Clock

CADDAC National Director

The topic of sleep issues frequently comes up during discussions with families impacted by ADHD; lack of total hours slept, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, resulting in difficulty getting up in the morning. These problems are reported in both children and adults. When children with ADHD have sleep problems, parents, whether they have ADHD or not, often complain about getting less sleep because their children are awake. This makes for a cranky and exhausted family all around. Less sleep also results in increased attention problems.

Therefore I was interested in finding this article summing up some of the most current research on what has been found to be helpful.

Apparently, a certain aspect of sleep disturbance is common in people with ADHD, delayed circadian preference, which means that one’s body clock is delayed or not in sync with the normal day/night cycle. An example would be the common delay in falling asleep that many adults and children with ADHD complain about. It is definitely a concern for parents of these children.

There are two interventions that have shown some promise: bright light therapy and Melatonin. In an adult study the use of bright light therapy was shown to reduce attentional problems, improve mood and result in subjects going to sleep earlier.

A long term study on Melatonin use in children indicated that even three to four years after Melatonin was continuously used, 90% of parents felt that it still assisted with earlier sleep onset and two thirds reported improved mood and behaviour.

Another study which paired the use of Ritalin and Melatonin as a treatment found increased growth and weight in these children despite no difference in caloric intake. The researchers hypothesised that this might be due to the increase in growth hormone which is released during deep sleep. This is an interesting finding especially for parents concerned about the potential of delayed growth for some children taking stimulants.

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