Young people who have trouble with executive function often have problems with their academic performance, social skills and emotional development. While previous research has shown that a lack of sleep contributes to poor executive functioning in teens, adolescents with ADHD have not been studied.
For this reason, the researchers measured executive function in teen volunteers with ADHD after two separate sleep trials. The participants spent a week in which their sleep was limited to six-and-a-half hours each night. After that, they spent another week in which they could sleep up to nine-and-a-half hours per night.
After each trial, the researchers administered the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, Second Edition (BRIEF2), a widely used measure of executive function in children up to age 18. The BRIEF2 measures executive function areas such as emotional control, initiation, inhibition, planning and organization, and working memory.
The research team found that a shorter period of sleep resulted in significant deficits in all the assessed areas compared to the longer sleep duration. The researchers explained that sleeping for longer may significantly and positively affect the academic, social, and emotional functioning in teenagers with ADHD. In addition, they wrote that sleep might be a key future target for future intervention
The research team presented their findings at the American Physiological Society's annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Teens need about eight to 10 hours of sleep each night to be at their best, but those with ADHD find it extra hard to get that amount consistently. Unfortunately, adolescents with ADHD tend to have sleep problems, with 30 to 75 percent of them not getting enough sleep. Teens with ADHD commonly encounter sleep problems such as short sleep time, difficulty falling asleep, and daytime sleepiness.
Generally, a lack of sleep can affect one’s mood, attention, and daily functioning. However, these consequences are magnified in teens with ADHD. Research in teens with ADHD also showed that sleep problems are linked to increases in depressive symptoms and oppositional behavior over time. In addition, daytime sleepiness has been associated with reduced academic performance.
Experts explained that one possible reason for sleep problems in young people with ADHD is that they typically have trouble managing their waking activities and schedules. This may result in inconsistent bedtimes and too few hours available for sleeping.
Neurobiological mechanisms may also play a role. For example, some studies have looked at the possible link between ADHD and circadian rhythm sleep disorder, wherein people have difficulty falling asleep and waking up at the desired clock time. Some evidence suggested that people with ADHD might have a later circadian rhythm and circadian preference than those without ADHD, which is why they find it harder to go to bed when they should to get enough sleep.
Another possible reason is stimulant drugs, the most common form of treatment for ADHD. These drugs cause sleep disruption as one of their many side effects.
Sleep is also often overlooked as a potential treatment target. Teens with ADHD should follow healthy sleep habits, such as sticking with a regular bedtime every night and avoiding staying up too late to play video games, use social media or watch TV. Getting enough exercise, avoiding caffeine in the evening and practicing relaxation techniques may also help teens with ADHD sleep better at night. (Related: Study suggests a direct link between screen time and ADHD in teens.)