Bad sleep habits complicate ADHD, teen school performance
Lack of sleep x ADHD = trouble
CINCINNATI, OHIO (WVLT) - Parents of teens know first-hand they don’t always have the best sleep habits, making some mornings a nightmare. Sleep deprivation may also have an additional impact on kids with ADHD.
Teens have notoriously erratic sleep behaviors. They’re awake late at night and then it’s tough to rouse them when the alarm goes off the next morning. And for teens with ADHD, research suggests quality sleep may also be tougher to come by.
From the time Emma Krabbe was little, her parents noticed she had trouble sleeping, no matter what they tried.
“She would be asleep, but then she would wake up and she would be up at one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock,” said Denise Krabbe, Emma’s mom.
Sometimes during the school day, Emma would be sleepy, and couldn’t focus.
“Like your brain wants to shut down and it doesn’t want to take in any more information,” Emma said.
Emma was diagnosed with ADHD.
“We found teens with ADHD to have two to three times more difficulties with sleep problems,” Clinical Psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Stephen Becker, PhD said.
Becker and his colleagues conducted a study in which they recruited 300 students, half with ADHD, half without. Twenty percent of the teens with ADHD got less than seven hours of sleep on school nights, compared to 10 percent of students without ADHD. The study also found that poor sleep was associated with lower scores on standardized math tests the next day for all students, with or without ADHD.
Becker says it’s important for parents to help their teens adopt healthy sleep habits. For starters, encourage them to use their beds for sleep only.
“The brain starts to associate the bed with sleep and homework and chatting with your friends and all these things. And we really want the brain to associate the bed with sleep,” said Becker.
He said to remind teens to establish pre-bedtime routines.
“Pajamas, teeth, bathroom, and then lay down. It’s pretty simple, but it’s effective honestly, since my brain will recognize that pattern and realize hey it’s time to shut down,” Emma said.
For Emma, it’s working. Most nights she gets good quality sleep.
“Fabulous. I love it. She is a rock star now,” Denise said.
Becker says teachers should also be aware that sleepy teens can benefit from intervention, “If teachers do notice that their teen is falling asleep in class, it’s not necessarily because the teen is bored or not motivated, that’s often not the case. It might be that there’s underlying sleep difficulties or they’re getting insufficient or poor sleep.
“And mentioning that to the caregiver and to the parent and thinking about, ‘Hey, have you ever noticed sleep problems or is that something that you might want to talk to your pediatrician or another professional about?’” continued Becker.
These tips help turn a good night’s sleep into a more productive school day. Teens with ADHD who are having trouble with homework may also be staying up later to complete assignments, so education scientists say parents should be encouraged to work with students and their teachers on more effective homework strategies.
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