I have often been a listening ear to a mother of a son who has ADD. What follows is Part II of his story on ADD + sleep disorders, all in his mother’s own words. Part 1 can be accessed here.
After my son was diagnosed with ADD and we finally had him on the right medication and dosage, my Mom-radar or “Mom-dar” was still on alert. Something was still bothering me, and I didn’t feel like we had completely solved things.
My son had to have dental surgery when he was two years old. The dentist asked me if my son slept well because he had the largest adenoids he’d ever seen, and he was hard to wake up. I thought he’d been sleeping okay and started checking on him at night, but I didn’t forget this comment.
More background—since my son was little, he’s always been a pretty logical thinker. He obviously doesn’t have the experience of an adult, but he tries to think through cause and effect, and reason things out based on his experience. He gets really bent out of shape if he senses even a little hypocrisy or injustice.
However, in the last few years, there were these moments when he was completely unreasonable. There was no explanation or conversation that would bring him back to a normal, levelheaded conversation. One night in particular, we were all frustrated with each other, and we offered him one option after the other—and he kind of acted “out of his mind.” There was no way to help him dig out of whatever mental corner he was in. We even tested his blood sugar, thinking maybe this was impacting his thought processes. His blood sugar was fine.
Afterward, my husband kept wondering if he was sleeping well. Due to my husband and the previous comments years ago from the dentist, I asked the doctor once if my son should have a sleep study—when you stay overnight at a clinic and they hook you up to sensors to monitor your breathing, heart rate, and brain activity. This is how they diagnose many adults with sleep apnea. Doctor didn’t see the need. Next appointment, I was more insistent. We got a sleep study.
During the sleep study, I slept on a pull-out couch in the same room. The technicians never came in to hook him up to oxygen, so I took that as a good sign. However, somehow we were put on the low priority list (or our results were misplaced) and no one called us for four months—think of it, four additional months during the school year while my child was struggling to focus.
Finally, a beautiful angel of a doctor called us. She was a sleep specialist, and she was upset that no one had contacted us. I was in tears over the phone as she told me that my son did NOT have sleep apnea, but that he had a sleep disorder. She told me that he hit REM sleep about 2 hours after when he went to bed—and this wasn’t normal.
She wanted us to come in for an appointment. In the meantime, she gave me some things to try before the appointment and said that it was fixable without prescription medication. She felt bad because of the delay—I was elated because we finally had an answer; elated that my “Mom-dar” was right again! I was ecstatic that someone finally had a name and a cure for what I was seeing.
Just think of it: repeated lack of sleep or continual poor sleep does cause insanity— and we were occasionally seeing this in our child. And we didn’t need a full sleep study to diagnose it; all we needed was an appointment to be evaluated by a sleep specialist.
If I remember correctly, the doctor said about 40% of ADD/ADHD patients have some type of sleep disorder. If you ask a parent, “What time does your child fall to sleep?” and the parent says, “After I do,” or “I’m not sure,” they might have a child with a sleep disorder. If you ask the child, “What time do your parents fall asleep?” and the child confidently says, “Mom’s out by 11:00 p.m.”—red flag.
Turns out, my child has two sleep disorders. He has a delayed REM, and he has restless leg. Lack of iron is tied to restless leg, so it is an easy fix. Daily iron supplements taken with Vitamin C to help the body absorb the iron, helps resolve restless leg. When he was a baby/toddler and he crawled into bed with us, we’d send him back to bed. He would pinwheel/spin all night. Having a kid’s foot in your face at 2:00 a.m.—not fun. Now I have a different perspective about those nights.
REM delay is minimized by turning off the electronics (blue light) one hour before bed, wearing blue light blocking glasses, taking over-the-counter Melatonin, and getting extra time outside in the morning daylight. Think of it as resetting/retraining your bio clock.
My additional observation is that extra exercise also helps. Karate, soccer, baseball, or swimming lessons seem to help some. And if he can remember to complete his schoolwork, we love for him to participate in these things (but not all at once).
To me, if 40% of ADD/ADHD patients have a sleep disorder, then there should be a significant discussion on sleep with the learning and development doctors. Not just, “Is he sleeping okay?” There should be an automatic referral to a sleep specialist or more specific questions asked of the parents. Otherwise, you’re sending insane kids home to frustrated and tired parents—and then you wonder why there are problems at home.
Knowing there is a name for a problem and additionally, that there are ways to help the problem, is a tremendous relief for a parent. It means no one is at fault. I can identify my “enemy” (ADD and sleep disorders) and I can formulate an “attack plan” (medication, glasses, vitamins) to weaken my enemy.
If you are listening to a parent complain, do them a favor and listen carefully. Does something seem slightly off-nominal or unusual? Then maybe gently suggest that it’s time to call a doctor or a specialist; maybe its time for them to get some extra help.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.