Does my child have ADHD or an undiagnosed sleep disorder?

There are a variety of reasons why children have trouble sleeping: difficulty with limit setting around bedtime, irregular schedules, or possibly due to a medical condition. One quarter of all children suffer with problematic sleep at some point during their childhood years. If left unresolved or untreated, the impact to the child and the family can be significant.

Insufficient sleep (or disrupted sleep) can have several negative impacts on your child’s cognitive, emotional and behavioural functioning, so it’s no surprise that symptoms of sleep deprivation in children can look a lot like ADHD and other psychiatric disorders of childhood. Therapists trained in treating childhood sleep disorders can work with you and your family to learn new strategies for managing bedtime routines, naps, sleep hygiene and disruptive sleep behaviours. Some questions you may be having now are…

What does a sleep deprived child look like?
  • Less attentive/focused
  • Hyperactive/moving to stay awake
  • More impulsive/blurting out
  • Off task easily/more distracted
  • Forgetful
  • More prone to melt downs/tantrums/outbursts
  • Disruptive at home and school
  • Careless/accident prone
  • Show reduced school performance
What does disordered sleep look like?
  • Has problems falling asleep
  • Wakes for no apparent reason
  • Snores
  • Gasps for air or appears to have problems breathing
  • Moves a lot during sleep
  • Has exceptionally large tonsils

If your child has exhibited several of the symptoms listed above, then you should talk with your therapist or doctor about these concerns and find out if your child would benefit from an overnight sleep study, where sleep specialists use state of the art technology to identify if your child has an undiagnosed sleep disorder. The key to treatment is getting the right diagnosis, so that your child can get the sleep they need to grow academically, behaviourally and emotionally, and have the best quality of life possible.

Jessica Palmer, MA


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