ADHD or Sleep Deprivation?

Posted by Tyler Britton on Oct 26, 2021 3:13:00 PM


How Many Hours of Sleep Do Children Need?

Children need more sleep than adults. The younger the child, the more sleep they need. Below is a guideline for the amount of recommended number of hours of sleep your child should be getting based on their age [Sleep Foundation]. All children are different and have unique needs, so below is a general guide, but it's important to be in tune to what your child needs and try to match that. 

  • Newborns 0-4 months
    • Recommended 14-17 hours per day
    • Not less than 11 hours
    • Not more than 19 hours
  • Infants 4-12 months
    • Recommended 12-16 hours
    • Not less than 10 hours
    • Not more than 18 hours
  • Toddlers 1-3 years
    • Recommended 11-14 hours
    • Not less than 9 hours
    • Not more than 16 hours
  • Preschoolers 3-5 years
    • Recommended 10-13 hours
    • Not less than 8 hours
    • Not more than 14 hours
  • Adolescents 6-13
    • Recommended 9-12 hours
    • Not less than 7 hours
    • Not more than 12 hours
  • Teenagers 13-18 years
    • Recommended 8-10 hours
    • Not less than 7 hours
    • Not more than 11 hours

What’s important is to try and establish what amount of sleep allows your child to perform best. When children don’t get enough, they will suffer from sleep deprivation.


Signs of Sleep Deprivation and ADHD are Similar

Children will show signs of sleep deprivation when they aren’t getting enough sleep. We are all familiar with terms like the “witching hour” when our children get sleepy. The defiant, crabby, and hyperactive behaviors that are characteristic of the witching hour are also remarkably the same signs children chronically show when they are suffering from sleep deprivation. 

These signs of sleep deprivation in children include:

  • Behavior that is consistent with ADHD signs
    • Hyperactivity
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Defiant behavior
    • Impulsive behavior
  • Excessive sleep on weekends
  • Falling asleep during the day, such as at school
  • Poor or erratic performance at school
  • Hard time waking up in the morning

In fact, there is an increasing body of evidence from studies that children with chronic sleep problems can be misdiagnosed with ADHD (Shur-Fen Gau 2006).

Establishing Behavioral Baseline for Children

An important part of establishing whether or not your child is suffering from sleep deprivation are establishing a baseline of what behavior is normal for your child.

Choose a couple of days when you are sure your child is getting plenty of sleep, such as within the recommended range, and then observe their behavior and performance. Then, over time, look for:

  • Erratic behavior and performance from day to day
  • Chronic behavior/performance that is uncharacteristic from the baseline

If you notice either of these in your child, it may be a sign that they are sleep deprived. If you notice erratic or chronic uncharacteristic behavior, look at how much sleep they are getting.

Reasons Your Child Might be Sleep Deprived

There are several lifestyle reasons your child may be sleep deprived:

  • Erratic sleep schedule
  • No bedtime routine
  • Too much screen time
  • Not enough exercise
  • Room that is too loud, bright, or full of distractions during the night

A recent study on sleep and screens conclusively showed that children who watched more TV and had TV in their bedrooms “displayed significantly shorter sleep duration and worse sleep”, and were inclined to nap longer. Importantly, the study showed that the extra napping did not offset these negative impacts.

Bedtimes and bedtime routines are also extremely important for ensuring that your child gets to sleep at the time needed for them to get enough sleep. Also, their room should be conducive to sleep, especially if your child is a light sleeper.

Other Reasons for Sleep Deprivation in Children

Besides lifestyle, children can also suffer from sleep disorders that affect sleep, such as:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Insomnia
  • Circadian rhythm disorders
  • Night terrors

If you live in Alaska and your child seems to be suffering from sleep deprivation and is not getting much screen time, please access this free online sleep test to get in touch with us.

Take a Free Online Sleep Test

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