DISCA study team
17 Mar 2023
Families have shared their child’s sleep problems with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and how new research could help.
Southampton researchers are leading the national Digital Sleep Support for Children with ADHD (DISCA) study. This will offer online support for families to help children with ADHD sleep better.
Parents of children with ADHD taking part in DICSA told their experiences for World Sleep Day.
Affecting the whole family
ADHD is a condition that affects behaviour, causing people to be restless and impulsive, or to find it hard to concentrate. Around 3-6% of school-age children are estimated to have it in the UK.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for all children’s health and wellbeing, but almost three quarters of children with ADHD find it difficult. Poor sleep can make their symptoms worse, and affects the quality of life for the whole family. Yet many doctors struggle to advise parents on sleep.
World Sleep Day is an annual event which aims to raise awareness of important issues related to sleep. Parents taking part in the DISCA study used it as an opportunity to share the impact sleep problems had on their families. They spoke about the challenges they encountered when seeking help and the need for improved support.
“It’s not just ADHD during the day,” explained one mum. “[People] don’t seem to know what sleep deprivation can do, not just for the child, but for the families living with the child.”
“Healthcare professionals need to be made more aware of this,” said the dad from another family, “and the ripple effect it has on the family and also the children. It’s essential.”
“It would have made a huge difference if we’d had somebody who understood our experience,” added the mum. “We felt very isolated.”
Informing health professionals
There is currently no national guidance for healthcare professionals on treating sleep problems in children with ADHD. Many are therefore unsure of the best way to treat it.
This often means they prescribe melatonin, a hormone which controls sleep patterns, as a ‘one size fits all’ treatment. However, melatonin does not always work, can have side effects and might not be the most effective treatment in the long term.
“Jack was on sleeping tablets which never seemed to work,” explained one mum. “Every time we had an appointment, I’d bring it up that Jack wasn’t sleeping well, that he was disturbing everyone, and they just kept saying to go back to the medication, which obviously wasn’t working.
“It would help him go to sleep, but it wouldn’t keep him asleep. He might go to sleep for an hour or two, and then he’s up for the rest of the night.”
Over the next five years, DISCA will provide resources and training for healthcare professionals to help them correctly identify sleep problems.
The DISCA study team are developing an ADHD-specific sleep screening questionnaire for doctors who support families of children with ADHD. This will be a first step to help them identify sleep problems in these children.