A Short Term Sleep Intervention Could Help Children with ADHD

A new research study shows positive, long lasting results for children with ADHD, from a two-session sleep program. The program improves the children’s sleep, ADHD symptoms, quality of life, daily functioning and behavior, with benefits lasting at least 12 months. Because the intervention is brief, it is suitable for use by most families as well as a wide variety of clinicians. The sleep program was developed by research teams at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Deakin University.

ADHD is linked with higher rates of sleep problems compared to individuals without ADHD,,including:

  • Daytime sleepiness than children without ADHD.
  • Sleep disordered breathing
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Periodic leg movement syndrome

For children with ADHD, poor sleep may significantly impact their ADHD symptoms. In fact, research has found that treating sleep problems may be enough to eliminate attention and hyperactivity issues for some children.

The study included 244 children aged 5 to 13 years who had been diagnosed with ADHD and moderate to severe sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep. They  were divided into two groups. A control group of children with ADHD was set up that did not receive the sleep intervention. For the other group, the researchers used the following sleep intervention approach:

  1. Children in the treatment group and a parent attended two sessions with a pediatrician or psychologist two weeks apart.
  2. During that time, the clinician assessed the child’s sleep, established sleep goals, advised on normal sleep patterns and healthy sleep habits and developed a customized behavioral sleep management plan.
  3. The program ran in conjunction with the child’s usual care plan.
  4. The program covered bedtime issues including insomnia, night time anxiety, bedtime refusal, or needing a person or object (e.g., parent or television) in order to fall asleep.
  5. Families received information sheets matching the child’s sleep problems, with parents also asked to keep a sleep diary for their child between the two consultations.
  6. Children in the control group continued with their usual care from their pediatrician.
  7. A follow-up phone call two weeks later monitored progress, addressed any problems and advised on additional strategies if required.
  8. Participants were followed up at three, six and 12 months to evaluate how well benefits were maintained, with the child’s parents and teacher also asked to complete a survey at the beginning and end of the study period.

The researchers found that after 12 months, the children in the treatment group were getting better sleep and experiencing a wider range of bf benefits (e.g., ADHD symptom reduction) than those in the control group. They also discovered that children in the treatment group who took ADHD medication showed greater improvement than those who didn’t.

The study holds out the prospect of a simpler and more effective approach for implementing healthy sleep habits in children with ADHD and improving their quality of life.



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