Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become a modern menace for millions of children and adults alike. According to research by Cape Town-based psychiatrist Dr Renata Schoeman, at least one in 20 children in South Africa suffer from ADHD.
ADHD is characterised by problems with concentration, impulse control, organisation and memory. This condition makes life difficult for the child affected, but also for the parents, teachers and other care-givers. More significantly though is that it often leads to a life-time dependency on drugs.
Sleep difficulties are also often associated with ADHD affected children. But the question now being posed by experts is what comes first – the ADHD diagnosis or the sleep difficulty? And is one being treated rather than the other?
What the experts say
According to commentary by Dr Vatsal Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in the USA, one needs to consider sleep problems as a possible cause when evaluating patients for ADHD.
He notes that many of the symptoms of ADHD are similar to insufficient or poor sleep. These include lack of focus, problems listening, forgetfulness and disorganisation, as well as a tendency to be agitated, excitable and disruptive.
These behaviours interfere with a child’s social and intellectual development, resulting in relationship problems with peers and adults, both at school and at home.
There is also strong evidence that children with sleep disordered breathing display many of the same symptoms and behavioural problems as children with ADHD. The problem, however, is that screening for sleep disorder is not often conducted, and so problems go undiagnosed.
Factors that influence your child’s sleep
Our modern lifestyles may also be to blame for children’s poor sleep patterns. We need to control the constant interference of electronics and a non-stop lifestyle.
Dr Thakkar makes the interesting observation that “the escalation of ADHD cases in the 1990’s and 2000’s coincided with the rise of the digital age, and the widespread use of personal technology that now pervades our daily lives. These devices – our laptops, tablets and cell phones – that enable so much convenience and connection, also threaten the quality and quantity of sleep.”
He says the night-time exposure to the light electronic devices emit, interferes with the body’s release of melatonin, disrupting sleep cycles and diminishing time spent in the deepest, most restorative phases of sleep. “More than ever before in history, we must work to create the darkness that is so essential to sleep. Keeping our bedrooms, and our children’s bedrooms, gadget-free sanctuaries for sleep is one important way to guard against chronic sleep deprivation.”
This may be easier said than done, however, as watching television or playing a game on their computer or tablet also help children de-stress after a busy day at school.
Having identified the link between light from electronic devices, LED lights and other light sources and sleep disturbances, South African specialist ophthalmologist Dr Robert Daniel has developed an innovative solution that can be incorporated seamlessly into our modern-day lifestyle.
SleepSpec is a non-invasive, non-medicated solution to sleep difficulties. These glasses contain scientifically-engineered amber lenses, which filter out the blue light which suppresses the production of melatonin.
Worn for two hours before bedtime, SleepSpec allows the body to produce melatonin and prepare for sleep while you continue watching television or use other electronic devices. “The glasses, however, need to be taken off in complete darkness as even the smallest amount of light can signal the brain to stop producing melatonin and to wake up,” says Dr Daniel.
He adds it is also important to keep bedrooms as dark as possible and to use an amber-coloured flash light on waking at night so as not to interrupt melatonin production.
“Many children suffer from night terrors or are scared of the dark. If any light is needed, make sure that it is one with an orange or red colour as this contains little or no blue light and so will not disturb sleep,” he says.
The effectiveness of SleepSpec is also cumulative, so the more they are used, the more noticeable the difference.
Where can I find SleepSpec?
Available online from www.sleepspec.com or from Vencase Stores and selected independent optometrists. SleepSpec come in various styles including one specifically designed for children. SleepSpec for Kids is R690 a pair.
More about the expert:
Dr Robert Daniel is a Specialist Ophthalmologist with training in Human Physiology and Neuroscience. Visit www.sleepspec.co.za for more information.
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