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ADHD in Children: Learning Disability or Sleep Disorder?

Raising and teaching a child with a learning disability is no easy task, but it is a necessity with how common learning disabilities have become in the last decade. Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder often have trouble focusing, excessive energy, and much more impulsive behaviors. While researchers continue to look into the possible causes of this learning disability, some theories stand out more than others.

A growing ideology is that of ADHD being directly caused by lack of sleep, and the arguments that support this theory are quite strong. Think about how many children today have access to smartphones, tablets, and televisions, and how often their parents allow them to utilize these pieces of technology. Because blue light has been continuously linked to poor sleep, it would make sense that exposure to these screens in children today would negatively affect their sleep patterns.

The constant demands of school in terms of hours and work assigned often lead to less sleep as well. Children and teenagers alike are asked to wake up earlier to attend school at what some may consider unreasonable hours. While this does mean getting out earlier, these are the last generations to consider going to bed sooner to accommodate for the exhausting hours.

More and more studies are suggesting that there is direct correlation between lack of, or poor quality of sleep and ADHD, which would suggest that it is being misdiagnosed. Children with ADHD may actually suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, or another sleep disorder. Even more challenging, the idea that ADHD itself is a sleep disorder has come into light, forcing researchers to alter their methods of studying this disability.

Taking one’s circadian rhythm into account, children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were shown to have a later output of melatonin in the night than children without. Because of this, they are falling asleep later, and struggling to wake up earlier, all the while their schools are demanding their educations begin at the crack of dawn. This vicious cycle of lost sleep leads to behavioral changes, of which ADHD could be categorized.

Roughly 1-3% of children in the world have obstructive sleep apnea, and 5-27% suffer from prominent snoring. Further studies have concluded that individuals suffering from any type of sleep disorder are more likely to experiences changes in behavior, with children showing signs of ADHD.

While there is no definitive answer as to whether or not ADHD is considered a sleep disorder, the connections between the disability and sleeping issues are hard to argue against. 11% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, and it may be beneficial to study their sleeping patterns to determine whether or not they could be contributors.