The link between sleep and obesity is very straightforward. If children are sleep deprived, they tend to overeat to compensate and there is a higher change they will end up overweight or obese.
The links between sleep, behaviour and ADHD are more complicated. We’ll go through them here.
The numbers of children being diagnosed with ADHD – and the subsequent numbers of drug prescriptions – are rising alarmingly quickly, particularly in the USA.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5 percent of American children do really suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However the diagnosis is given to some 15 percent of American children (up to 30% of boys in the Southern states), many of whom are then placed on powerful drugs with lifelong consequences.
This means around two thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD do not actually suffer from the disorder, and shouldn’t be given stimulant drugs. These children suffer from simpler things, with similar symptoms that can be resolved without medication.
Three of the most common reasons for misdiagnosis are that children:
Symptoms of ADHD include having:
Many children display these symptoms – particularly boys – but around 95% of them don’t have ADHD.
ADHD medication might be prescribed quickly to children, rather than other possible avenues being explored, because:
If your child is one of the 5% who genuinely has ADHD, the medications can help – especially if taken in conjunction with behavioural therapy.
If your child doesn’t have ADHD (and remember, around 95% of children probably won’t), the drugs might cause long term problems worse than the original symptoms.
This is because potential side effects of the drugs include:
There’s no “diagnosis” – such as a blood test or CAT scan – so no-one really knows.
Instead, there’s a questionnaire (one standard example is called “The Conners Test” after the Doctor who created it) used to “diagnose” ADHD but it seems to lean towards over-diagnosis, at least in the USA.
Real diagnosis should take several visits to doctors and specialists. Discussions should be had with parents, teachers and specialists – and all other possibilities should be explored and ruled out first. This can take months.
A diagnosis which takes one appointment is not a thorough or responsible diagnosis.
You can consider questions 1 and 2 on your own, with your Doctor and Teachers. We will now help you with question 3.
The first question is – How much quality sleep should your child be having for their age group? That’s your target.
This table shows the average amount recommended for each age group – then the range as to what’s OK from time to time – then what’s not OK.
Source – US National Sleep Institute
Average – 10-13 hours
Normal range – 8-14 hours
Not OK – less than 8, more than 14 hours
Average – 9-11 hours
Normal range – 7-12 hours
Not OK – less than 7, more than 12 hours
So let’s say you have a 7 year old child. Your target becomes around 9-11 hours. If they sleep 7-8 hours, or up to 12 sometimes, that’s OK. If they are sleeping less than 7, or more than 12, that’s not OK.
There are two steps to improving a child’s sleep. The first is understanding how their sleep and stress hormones work. The second is using that understanding to create a bedtime routine.
We’ll look at understanding sleep hormones first. The Essential Parent sleep expert, Mandy Gurney, explains how they work in this video.
When they cross over, you wake up.
Once you have your target in terms of the number of hours you want your child to be sleeping, here’s how you encourage them to reach it.
Bedtime routines for children need to be all about increasing melatonin and reducing cortisol.
Essentialparent.com is a website created by a team formerly from the BBC Science Department. Working alongside some of the world’s top medical experts (see below) we create online courses, including videos, articles, webinars, and consultations, on everything you need to know on:
Essential Parent was launched in 2011, and all our baby care courses are officially supported by:
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
We hope you enjoyed the videos and advice from Mandy Gurney, Essential Parent’s sleep expert and the Director of Millpond Sleep Clinic.
Mandy started her training as a general nurse and it was during that time that she decided to train as a midwife and health visitor.
Whilst being a health visitor she gave birth to her son, who’s now 23. He had all sorts of sleep problems. He came as a little bundle of joy with reflux, asthma and food allergies. He cried a lot during the day and at night too, and consequently it was a difficult time for her.
She went back to work and thought she had all the right people she needed to help her – GP’s, psychologists, and so on. But she found she wasn’t able to get the help she needed. This led her to think there must be so many other parents in a far worse situation that she was. So she eventually set up a sleep clinic at St Charles NHS Hospital in London which ran for about five years.
She then set up Millpond about 11 years ago with a colleague that she was working within the NHS. She acts as an advisor to the NHS on sleep issues.
Get in touch on [email protected]
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