New Study Shows No Link Between Sleep Patterns and ADHD

One of the original criteria for the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was a pattern of sleep problems. Although this is no longer included in the clinical criteria to reach a diagnosis of ADHD, many children with ADHD experience sleep disturbances. According to parental reports, sleep problems occur in over half of children with ADHD. Understanding the sleep microstructure, or sequence of waking moments and sleep arousals that occur, in children with ADHD is important for addressing the symptoms. When children do not get enough sleep, their attention during waking hours can be significantly compromised, stretching their already limited attention resources further.

Although there has been evidence of a link between sleep disturbances and ADHD in some existing research, there have been few studies that have focused specifically on sleep microstructure in children with ADHD. Therefore, I. Prihodova of the Department of Neurology and Center of Clinical Neuroscience at Charles University in the Czech Republic conducted a study of 14 children with a diagnosis of ADHD and no history of sleep problems. Prihodova assessed the sleep stability in the participants and compared that to the sleep stability of 14 control participants with no history of ADHD or sleep problems. The participants were evaluated via video monitor for two nights and measured for sleep arousal and disturbances using a system called CAP.

Prihodova found that the children with ADHD had no significant differences in CAP scoring than those without ADHD. These findings are contrary to some existing research that demonstrates a link between the sleep patterns of ADHD children and non-ADHD children. However, Prihodova believes that the use of microstructure examination, which was not used in existing research, could account for the variances in outcomes. Additionally, Prihodova believes that although the control group and ADHD children were well-matched, the sample size of only 14 subjects with ADHD could be too small to gauge accurate results. Prihodova added, “This discrepancy between our findings and the only present-day study of that particular aspect [Miano et al. (2006)] calls for more research using larger cohorts to verify the results.”

Príhodová, I., Paclt, I., Kemlink, D., Nevsímalová, S. (2012). Sleep microstructure is not altered in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Psychological Research, 61.1, 125-133.

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  • Juliet


    May 11th, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    I have a pretty hard time believing this new research. We know how much sleep and lack of sleep affects behavior and the way that we are able to function. It determines how good we feel, how we process our emotions, if we gain weight, everything! How could there now be something that says that it is possible that there is no correlation at all between ADHD and disordered sleeping?

  • Dr. Michael G Millett

    Dr. Michael G Millett

    May 12th, 2012 at 5:44 AM

    Interesting reading about the Prihodova report. In the past, psychiatrists have overlooked sleep disturbances caused by ADD/ADHD because previous studies on the subject provided mixed evidence. Personally, I think there needs to be more future studies focusing specifically on sleep microstructure in children with ADD/ADHD before any further conclusions can be made about the relationship between ADD/ADHD and sleep disorders.

  • Noelle


    May 12th, 2012 at 6:59 AM

    I hope that we remember that just because one does not necessarily cause or contribute to the other, there is a lot of evidence around that states that children facing this kind of disturbance also have problems with establishing normal and healthy sleep patterns. And getting them to sleep without interruption and disruption is critical to assure that they are not only getting the rest that they need, but that they can overcome some of the difficulties associated with ADHD.

  • Alexander Nestoiter

    Alexander Nestoiter

    May 13th, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    I want to let you in on a little technical detail that few doctors talk about. All the machines that test the speed/activity of the brain, only work while the patient is not moving. They need the patient perfectly still in order to calibrate their machine. Sleeping is ideal place to gather statistics. What nobody want to admit is that that’s not how we live our lives. When we are not sleeping, we are active, moving about all the time. This when machines cannot accurately measure our brain activity, because of this limitation, all the studies are done while the person/patient is still. But, that’s not when we experience our ADD/ADHD symptoms. In short, they are measuring outside of working parameters. In other words, their data next to useless. They also don’t tell you that aside from medication, there are other ways to treat ADD/ADHD symptoms, like balance training, for example. Stand on a narrow balance beam for 10-15 minutes several times a day, and you will not need to take your meds. I bet you didn’t know this. For more info, Google my name, Alexander Nestoiter. I’ve spent many years working on this. I think ADD/ADHD are more due to physical changes in our modern life. But very few people talk about it because you can’t make money by treating someone with a balance beam training, so, they treat it with medication.

  • Dr. Michael G Millett

    Dr. Michael G Millett

    May 14th, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    Very interesting Alexander to read this and much appreciated information. Money makes the world go round – for some anyway! Thank you.

  • Maya


    May 14th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    I guess that just because there is no direct this causes this kind of findings that they can’t say for sure whether having one of these issues causes another.

    But I am telling you that the kind of behavior that comes along with ADHD naturally lends itself to sleep disturbances. It is terribly hard to deal with all of the mind chatter and hyperactivity that comes with ADHD and expect to sleep normally.

    And when the sleeping gives you problems than theat becomes a cycle and pretty much a predictor that the behavior will continue to be problematic.

  • Stephanie Manes

    Stephanie Manes

    May 15th, 2012 at 3:19 AM

    In my own family therapy practice, I work with many parents of children with ADD/ADHD and they almost unilaterally struggle with their child’s sleep disturbance. Study validity aside, I am actually curious what behavioral interventions people have found effective in patients.

  • Dr. Michael of Grantham Therapy

    Dr. Michael of Grantham Therapy

    May 15th, 2012 at 4:35 AM

    Hi Stephanie, I would suggest you have a look at `operant conditioning` as an intervention for children with ADD/ADHD. Do a search on the internet about it. The way it works is to ‘notice the good behaviour’ or if not, then notice the ‘no behaviour’ and reinforce it! It is a form of learning in which an individual’s behaviour is modified by its consequences. The behavior may change in form, frequency, or strength.

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