Many studies performed on sleep-deprived pilots and medical students have shown that cognitive performance, memory and learning decline dramatically in people who are sleep deprived. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have been exploring the causes of the commonly known medical fact that sleeping well improves your ability to learn.
What the researcher in California have found is that different phases of sleep help the brain efficiently make rooms for new information and that the biphasic sleep schedule seen in people who sleep 'well' not only clears your mind and readies it for learning but that good sleep can actually make you smarter.
According to Matthew Walker, the lead researcher in the University of California study, the more hours that a person stays awake, the more sluggish their mind will become and the less capable they will be at learning new material. Dr. Walker reports that "Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap."
These findings have important implications for ADHD. Sleep problems and ADHD go together like peanut butter and jelly and the learning difficulties seen in children and adolescents with ADHD are well known. It is estimated that up to 50% of children and adolescents with ADHD will also have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, problems with night terrors, suffer from restless leg syndrome or will have problems with sleep apnea.
In some individuals with ADHD, stimulant medication or other treatments for ADHD may worsen sleep problems while some people with ADHD have improved sleep after treatment for ADHD. As strange as this may seem, sleep improvement is sometimes even seen in some children and adolescents treated with stimulant medication. Researchers are unsure if the neurological processes involved in both sleep and ADHD are what is disrupted in people with ADHD and if this is why treatments that target these processes may simultaneously improve both ADHD and sleep symptoms.
Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to learn and is a major problem in people with ADD and ADHD. Treating the sleep disturbances of ADHD can improve the symptoms of sluggishness, inattention, and memory problems seen in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Parents should be alerted to the fact that sleep problems that do not improve with treatment must be treated with melatonin or with other medications prescribed by a health care provider. This is necessary in order that children and adolescents do not suffer further learning impairments as a result of sleep deprivation.