Monday, March 21, 2011

Can lack of sleep be mistaken for ADD?

A good night’s sleep should be declared a basic human right. Research is growing nearer to establishing the purpose of sleep. For example, Robert Stickgold (1998), reviewing studies on sleep and memory, points out that among rats, sleep deprivation prevents memory formation.
What prompted me to write this article on sleep, is the fact that we seem to see a fair amount of children who seem to have a majority of Delta Amplitude (Sleep Waves) even when they’re awake. These are children who have mostly already been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Diso.rder, but have not shown a positive response to various medications. Mostly when these parents are asked whether the children are sleeping, they reply that they have not had specific difficulties. However, when one starts investigating, often one or more of the following facts are reported about their sleep:
  • Struggling to fall asleep
  • Struggling to wake up
  • Awakening during the evening because of various reasons of which going to the bathroom seems to be the most common one
  • Restless sleep with continuous tossing and turning
  • Complaints of discomfort in their legs (painful at times and the continuous urge to move them – a condition called restless legs)
  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Easily awakened by various sensory stimuli and many more
How then can disturbance in sleep have such an effect that some children are diagnosed with ADD and learning problems? Lets take a closer look at sleep.
Infants average 14 hours of sleep, and the mature ad.ult 7.5 hours. However studies show that the length of sleep is not what causes us to be refreshed when we wake up.
The key factor is the number of complete sleep cycles we enjoy. Each sleep cycle contains five distinct phases, which exhibit different brainwave patterns:

Pre-sleep: beta waves or normal alertness
Phase 1 sleep: alpha waves, the mind at rest, eyes closed, breathing slowed, images beginning to appear
Phase 2 sleep: theta waves, or light sleep
Phase 3 sleep: delta waves, or deep sleep
Phase 4 sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, or dreaming
Phase 5 sleep: theta waves, or light sleep, signaling the end of a cycle.

Average sleep cycle = 90 minutes

Non-RE M = 65 minutes “Normal sleep”
REM = 20 minutes “Dream”
Non-REM = 5 minutes “Normal sleep”

So if we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up after a multiple of 90 minutes.  In essence a person who completes more sleep cycles in less hours, will feel more rested than someone who has slept more hours but has not been able to complete any one cycle due to interruptions.

Cornell University professor of psychology James B. Maas (Power Sleep, 1998) says sleeping less than a normal night’s sleep, negatively affects energy, performance, memory, learning, thinking, alertness, productivity, creativity, safety, health, longevity and quality of life. He also stresses the importance of REM sleep. Without REM we lose what we have learned that day. Through a burst of brainwave activity during REM sleep, experience is transformed into long-term memory.

These bursts of brainwave activity serve:
(1) to transport memories to the hippocampus (part of the brain where memory is stored), and
(2) to resupply one’s system with neurotransmitters (the chemical that aids the brain in sending signals/messages) used up during the previous day.
Without this, memories simply dissolve. So if you spe.nd time drilling your child to remember his spelling and he does not have a good night’s sleep, it will be in vain and could lead to the development of poor self esteem and even a tag of a learning difficulty.

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