Sleep problems and ADD

Sleep Problems and ADD
Inattentive ADD (ADHD-PI) and Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) often co-occurs with sleep problems. The most common problem experienced in folks with these diagnosis is delayed sleep onset but night wakings and even sleep walking can also be seen in people with SCT and ADD. 

In some people it is difficult to differentiate the symptoms of sleep deprivation from the symptoms of SCT or ADHD-PI. People who chronically sleep poorly will go through life in a fog. It is impossible to have a normal reaction time, to attend to anything or to remember anything when you are sleep deprived.  We know this to be true from studies done on soldiers and pilots.  In order to optimally perform, you must get an adequate amount of sleep.

It is imperative that sleep deprivation issues be addressed before any attempt is made to medicate or otherwise treat ADD and SCT symptoms.  Sleep problems are best addressed using a sleep hygiene program.

A sleep hygiene program involves a series of steps that should be taken prior to sleep, every night, to ensure that sleep is not disrupted. The University of Maryland recommends the following sleep hygiene steps:

  • Set a constant bedtime and an awakening time.
  • Do not nap during the day.
  • Do not consume alcohol, sugar, spicy food or caffeine within 4 hours of sleep.
  • Exercise, but not within 2 hours of sleep.
  • Sleep in a comfortable bed and a slightly cool room with as little light and noise and possible.
  • Eat a light snack with a high Tryptophan food such as turkey or banana can be helpful right before bed.
  • Use a relaxation method prior to sleep. Meditation, yoga or sleep MP3s can help get you into sleep mode.
  • Have a pre-sleep ritual such as a bath with Epsom salts and then a time for reading.

A good sleep hygiene program is essential for everyone but it is especially important for children and adults with ADD and SCT. I had classic "sleep onset delay" problems as a child. I would lay awake in my bed until one o'clock in the morning listening to late night talk radio on this little Sony Player (it is amazing the smut your hear on late night radio...). Needless to say, by morning I was a walking zombie. 

I was bound and determined that this would not happen to my son. With the help of a good sleep hygiene program and Melatonin, he now sleeps. He recently started using a sleep MP3 that my mother gave him and he needs less Melatonin as a result. 

Some people reports that these MP3s work in the same way that Neurofeedback works by changing the brain's arousal level and, in the case of this sleep inducing recording, inducing the brain into the delta wave state that is necessary for deep sleep. I was unable to find studies to substantiate this but it does seem to help him relax and fall asleep My son has the sleep MP3 on his little CD player by his bedside and it plays on a low volume. He reports that it helps him, on many days, fall right to sleep.

I have noticed a big difference in him since we have addressed his sleep problems.  He is more alert, more attentive, more productive and less sluggish.  If you do not have a sleep hygiene program in place, you should start the new year with a goal of implementing a program to help you or your child sleep.  I believe that you will notice an improvement in your SCT and ADD symptoms immediately.

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  1. Great advice Tess. I am fortunate enough to work with a doctor whose first concern in treating my ADHD/SCT was addressing my sleep disorder.

    He had me do a sleep study which confirmed a case of mild apnea and subsequent surgery to alleviate the obstruction, resulting in a drastic improvement in my overall condition.

  2. Thanks for reminding me Pete. Yes, it is important to rule out tonsillar and adenoid problems as well as sleep apnea as these can all cause symptoms of ADD and SCT. One study found that ADD symptoms improved in 40% of ADHD kids after tonsil and adenoid surgery.

  3. Thanks for the advice too, man I wish my doctor had ordered a sleep study for me. I have had sleep problems my entire life and it was only after I asked that he ordered one for me. And even then he FORGOT to give me the results. SO I still don't know.
    Anyways I have found that listening to any constant, repeating sound at night be it an air conditioner or a movie set to repeat or a song Helps me sleep. Now my theory(if it doesn't already exist-don't steal it and take it as your own lol) is that due to the errant "cogntive energy" and the need for mind to constantly focus on something that sound provides that need and helps me sleep.

  4. I think that there are certain sound frequencies that are known to be cognitively calming and sedating. Afred Tomatis the doctor who thoroughly researched what came to be known as the 'Mozart Effect' used sound frequencies in his psychiatry practice. I wonder if your theory could also be a possibility.

    Thanks for commenting!! Tess

  5. I am fairly confident that our 11 year old daughter has ADD-PI and likely SCT as well. I can't stop reading this website! Thanks Tess!!! Our daughter is exhausted all the time and needs to go to bed by 8:00 each night. It has become difficult as she can't stay up as long as her friends and this is the year the sleep overs really gear up. In any event, she falls asleep easily by 8:00ish into an extremely deep sleep but she wakes up extremely early and cannot fall back to sleep. She is up by 6:00 or so every day and then exhausted by mid-afternoon. I would like to be able to shift her sleep but even if she stays up later, she is up at the crack of dawn. Does anyone have tips for sleeping longer in the morning for these kids who are so fatigued by struggles with memory and organization. For example will melatonin help them sleep longer? I appreciate any thoughts!

  6. That is fine with me. I have yet to explore the forum but will do so now! Thanks for your quick response!

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