ADHD Medication Not Working for Your Teen? It May be a Sleep Disorder
It is yet another counseling appointment for Sam who is 13 years old and is struggling in school, home, and everywhere he goes. He has been diagnosed with ADHD and depression in the past but all of the medications have failed to work and his is getting worse, not better. He is a bright boy who can do well at school but he frequently falls asleep while doing homework saying that it is too boring. Socially he struggles with his peers as he seems disconnected, detached, and distracted. You are beyond frustrated, having tried numerous therapies and medications convinced that something is wrong but unable to identify it. Finally you begin to believe that he is just lazy.
While laziness may play a factor in Sam’s teenage brain, there might be something else. Frequently, lack of proper sleep can have waking symptoms of ADHD or even depression. Without proper REM sleep, a still growing teenager will struggle to stay awake during the day, seem distracted, forgetful, moody, prone to anger, unable to focus for long periods of time, and sleep excessively. A teenager should get approximately 9 hours of sleep with an additional hour of sleep if going through a growth spurt. If you are concerned that your child may have a sleep disorder instead of ADHD or depression, ask your doctor to order a sleep study. This is the best way to diagnose sleep disorders.
Narcolepsy. The movie version of narcolepsy has a person walking in a mall and suddenly dropping to the floor and going to sleep. This is not entirely accurate as there are many forms of narcolepsy all ranging from mild to severe. In a teenager, narcolepsy looks like falling asleep while in class, doing homework, watching TV, or reading. The teen may also be talking to you one minute, look away, seem to be somewhere else for a second and then return back to the conversation claiming an inability to follow the conversation. This is likely to cause problems at school and home as it may seem disrespectful to you. The good news is that once it is diagnosed, proper medication can mitigate the symptoms as well as a strict sleep schedule including a nap.
Sleep Apnea. During the night, a person with sleep apnea is suddenly startled in the middle of a deep sleep because breathing has stopped. This can happen many times during the course of the night leaving the waking person to feel exhausted in the morning. In a teenager, falling asleep during class, jerking while asleep, and snoring are all commons symptoms. The treatment varies for teens but common practices are to remove the tonsils and adenoids for relief of the symptoms.
Insomnia. Having difficulty falling asleep at night, staying asleep or not feeling rested could be chronic insomnia. Without regular sleep a teen seems distracted, depressed, struggles to concentrate at school, is moody, clumsy, and irritable. Again, early diagnosis is the key as there are many medications which can be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of insomnia. In addition, a regular sleep schedule is essential to condition your body when to rest and when to remain awake.
While there are more sleep disorders, these are the ones most commonly seen in teens. Still there are other medical conditions that could be contributing to sleep problems such as Restless Leg Syndrome so it is important to speak with your doctor to rule out any other contributing factors. However, the most important element in teaching your teen about good sleep patterns is by modeling them yourself. Develop a relaxing nighttime routine such as reading, yoga, a bath, or a cup of chamomile tea to release the day’s stressors and allow your body to naturally relax. In addition, do your best to go to bed at the same time every night waking up approximately 7 hours later around the same time every morning. This routine will not only improve your sleep habits but can aid in weight loss, reduce anxiety, depression and stress all of which can be beneficial for you and your teen.