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December 10, 2013

Sleepiness or ADHD?

by Hansa Bhargava, MD

As a pediatrician, I am often asked by parents if a child may have ADHD. It’s true that the CDC reports increasing rates of ADHD (www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html). But if a child is having trouble focusing, is it always ADHD, or could there be another reason?

If a child can’t read the blackboard, for example, could he be frustrated and act out? Or if he is thinking about the bully who is going to bother him at recess, could he lose focus? Could a lack of sleep or lack of exercise affect a child’s ability to focus?

All of these scenarios can cause inattentiveness. Not sleeping well can affect kids and parents alike. Have you felt cranky or had low energy when you didn’t sleep well? The same goes for kids. And lack of sleep can also affect whether they can engage well during the school day . This is why the National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-aged children need 10-11 hours of sleep per day. Personally, I can tell the difference when my daughter has had enough sleep!

Exercise can help with concentration, too.  Moving the body helps kids focus  and also makes them feel good by releasing brain chemicals called endorphins that help your mood. Many schools have caught onto this and have implemented morning “cardio” programs before school starts, to “rev” kids up and help them focus.

While it is certainly true that ADHD diagnoses are on the rise, don’t underestimate these other factors when it comes to kids and focus.  What helps your child focus better? Does sleep or exercise make him feel good?

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