Why Do Kids With ADHD Have Trouble Sleeping?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a brain disorder that typically begins in childhood and can persist into adolescence or adulthood 13. ADHD sufferers often have trouble concentrating, might act impulsively and have difficulty sitting still for any length of time. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are also relatively common in ADHD, although they tend not to appear until a child is about age 12, according to an article on the website ADDitude.

ADHD and Sleep Problems

The most common sleep problems in children with ADHD are initiation insomnia, restless sleep, difficulty waking and intrusive sleep. Initiation insomnia is an inability to fall asleep, often described as being unable to shut off the mind. By age 12, 50 percent of children with ADHD have difficulty falling asleep, according to ADDitude. Restless sleep includes tossing, turning and waking frequently. Once an ADHD sufferer finally gets to sleep, he might have difficulty waking. Intrusive sleep occurs when the ADHD sufferer loses interest in something -- it is almost as though the nervous system disengages -- and the child suddenly falls deeply asleep.

Medications and Sleep

In some cases, the medications that are used to treat ADHD might be the cause of sleep problems. Some of these medications are stimulants that can affect the child’s ability to fall or stay asleep, according to a May 2009 article in the “Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.” The article reports that parents of some children on psycho-stimulant medications feel their children have delayed sleep onset, wake during the night or have other severe sleep difficulties 3.

ADHD and Breathing Disorders

A link might exist between ADHD and breathing disorders during sleep. In a 2004 study conducted by the Sleep Laboratory at Rambam Medical Center and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, researchers performed tests on two groups of children, one of which had been diagnosed with ADHD. The children underwent sleep studies and researchers compared sleep latency -- how long it took for the child to fall asleep -- total sleep time and sleep efficiency. All of these were similar in both groups but the children with ADHD were significantly sleepier during the day. Fifty percent of the children with ADHD had symptoms of breathing problems during sleep.

Circadian Rhythms

The circadian clock is the body’s internal timekeeper -- a complex system of physical, mental and behavioral changes that occur in a 24-hour cycle. People who suffer from ADHD might have a problem with the circadian clock that makes it difficult for them to go to sleep at the usual bedtime hour. Their “normal” sleep pattern might be from 4 a.m. to noon. Children who suffer from this condition -- called delayed sleep phase syndrome -- might become sleep-deprived if they attempt to keep a routine that involves going to bed at 8 or 9 p.m.