You are here

Is ADHD Caused by Lack of Sleep?


Could sleep-deprivation be causing your child to develop signs of ADHD? According to a new opinion piece in the New York Times, it just might play a role.

Dr. Vatsal G. Thakkar, the author of the piece and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, began wondering if a lack of sleep could cause ADHD-like symptoms when treating an adult who complained of procrastination and forgetfulness. The patient, Dr. Thakkar discovered, did not have symptoms as a child, which ruled out a diagnosis of ADHD. His conclusion? The adult was sleep-deprived, which was causing him to forget things and lose his focus. When the patient began to get more sleep, his symptoms disappeared.

Plus: 19 Celebrities With ADHD

“I don’t doubt that many people do, in fact, have ADHD; I regularly diagnose and treat it in adults,” Dr. Thakkar writes. “But what if a substantial proportion of cases are really sleep disorders in disguise?”

Several studies, Dr. Thakkar, argues, points to a connection between sleep disorders like apnea and a deficit of delta, or restorative, sleep.  

In a 2006 study in Pediatrics, researchers studied over 100 kids from 5 to 12 years old, 78 of whom were getting tonsillectomies since they had issues with breathing in their sleep. The scientists evaluated the kids' sleep patterns and assessed them for inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Ultimately, they found that 28 percent of the kids getting their tonsils out had ADHD, as opposed to a mere 7 percent of the control group.

Dr. Thakkar also points out that kids today sleep over an hour less than they did a century ago, and that delta sleep is critical for proper growth.

Plus: ADHD Tips From Teachers

“It might just be a coincidence, but this sleep-restricting lifestyle began getting more extreme in the 1990s, the decade with the explosion in ADHD diagnoses,” he writes.

How does lack of sleep affect your own child? Does Dr Thakkar's theory sound reasonable to you? Leave a comment.