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Preschooler’s Sleep Loss May Cause ADHD Symptoms

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

As an adult, you already know how difficult it is to focus on even the simplest task when you haven’t had enough sleep. The same holds true for young adults, children and even kindergartners. According to a new study, preschoolers who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be hyperactive and inattentive in kindergarten, exhibiting ADHD-like symptoms.

The study involved about 6,860 children with analyses controlled for gender, ethnicity and family income.

“Children who were reported to sleep less in preschool were rated by their parents as more hyperactive and less attentive compared to their peers at kindergarten,” said lead author Erika Gaylor, PhD, senior researcher for SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. “These findings suggest that some children who are not getting adequate sleep may be at risk for developing behavioral problems manifested by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and problems sitting still and paying attention.”

According to the authors, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not generally diagnosed until the school-age years, but the onset of developmentally inappropriate inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity is often much younger. Sleep problems, particularly difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, are frequently reported in children and adolescents with ADHD.

Total nighttime sleep duration was calculated using parent-reported bedtimes and wake times, which were obtained via interview at both time points. Parents also rated their children’s behavior on brief measures of attention/task persistence and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is especially important for children because it directly impacts mental and physical development.

Preschoolers typically need 11-13 hours of sleep each night and most do not nap after five years of age. As with toddlers, difficulty falling asleep and waking up during the night are common.

Some tips to help preschoolers sleep better are:

- Maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule.

- Have a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child sleeps.

- Your child should sleep in the same sleeping environment every night, preferably in a room that is cool, quiet and dark – and without a TV.

Since the preschool age group is developing active imaginations, they commonly experience nighttime fears and nightmares. They also may sleepwalk, and experience sleep terrors.

A little extra attention from a comforting parent or caregiver can help ease some these fears.

Sleeping is the primary activity of the brain during early development. An important component to a good night’s sleep is Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or “quiet” sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development. Once again, another study points out how important sleep is to being able to function and think well – no matter what your age!

The study’s findings were presented at the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC in Minneapolis.

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