Sleep impairment is a common symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) as reported by children with ADHD and their parents. Children with ADHD often take a long time to fall asleep and have difficulty waking up in the morning. Although parental reports of sleep impairments are higher than laboratory results on children with ADHD, there still remains a significant difference between sleep patterns of children with and without ADHD. But how do these impairments affect memory and emotional reactivity?
To find out, and to assess how these emotional and memory processes relate to daytime behavior, Alexander Prehn-Kristensen of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry at the Christian-Albrechts University Kiel in Germany recently led a study involving 16 children with ADHD, 16 children without, and 20 adults without ADHD. He chose to include adults to gauge the effect of sleep on memory and emotional processing and how it differed between children and adults.
Prehn-Kristensen found that the non-ADHD children had a higher level of emotional memory bias than the adults or the ADHD children. This bias was sleep-dependent and Prehn-Kristensen noticed that the adults had lower levels of neurological activity related to sleep-dependent memory consolidation. This suggests that in non-ADHD individuals, emotional memory consolidation undergoes a normal decline from childhood to adulthood. However, in the ADHD children, the sleep quality affects emotional memory consolidation and leads to emotional disturbances during waking hours.
Overall, the children with ADHD had lower levels of sleep-dependent emotional bias and had more extreme emotional reactions to neutral images than the non-ADHD participants. Additionally, the emotionally stimulating pictures elicited a stronger emotional reaction in the ADHD participants than in the non-ADHD participants.
Prehn-Kristensen said, “Due to a lack of reorganization of emotional content in children with ADHD, one can assume that emotional problems during the daytime are amplified by dysfunctional sleep.” However, he added that although this study illuminates a new association between sleep and emotional arousal, the exact mechanisms responsible for the brain processes within that association need further examination.
Prehn-Kristensen, A., Munz, M., Molzow, I., Wilhelm, I., Wiesner, C.D., et al. (2013). Sleep promotes consolidation of emotional memory in healthy children but not in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS ONE 8(5): e65098. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065098
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