Sleep, Discipline, and Child Behavior Problems

Sleep deprivation obviously causes attention problems. Researchers are unaware.

Posted Jun 07, 2019

 Godward-Endymion 1893, public domain
Source: Wikimedia commons: Godward-Endymion 1893, public domain

A couple of news stories about some new “studies” on sleep and both ADHD and child behavior recently caught my eye. They illustrate the impressive lengths certain segments of the mental health industry, as well as some drug companies, will go to distract both the field and the public from the real cause of many childhood behavioral problems: adverse family interactions. They do so in order to justify their often ineffective and potentially toxic treatments. 

The headlines and study descriptions were:

1. Poor Childhood Sleep May Lead to Behavior Woes in Adolescence by Molly Walker, Staff Writer, MedPage Today, December 04, 2017: Study suggests “bidirectional” (two problems that mutually affect each other) association for some problems

“Young children who had greater sleep problems were more likely to have certain types of behavioral problems years later, Australian researchers found…There was a bidirectional association between sleep problems and externalizing difficulties, such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder, in children when measured at particular time points through early adolescence, reported Jon L. Quach, Ph.D., of the University of Melbourne in Australia…Quach's group said that the directionality of the associations between sleep problems in children and later behavioral problems are "poorly understood," but argued that "addressing this knowledge gap will provide valuable information to inform the focus and timing of interventions aiming to improve children's sleep and behavior during the elementary school years...Sleep problems were defined by parent report.”

Of course, they relied on parental self-reporting. This strategy makes use of parental denial to the maximum extent possible. 

“The directionality of the associations between sleep problems in children and later behavioral problems are ‘poorly understood?’” Poorly understood? Really? See the next article.

2.  ADHD and insomnia appear intertwined By Bruce Jancin, Clinical Psychiatry News, November 30, 2017.  

“‘Converging evidence suggests that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and sleep difficulties share a common underlying etiology involving circadian rhythm disturbance,’ J.J. Sandra Kooij, MD, Ph.D., declared at the annual congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology…Having built the case for circadian disruption as an underlying cause of both ADHD symptoms and the commonly co-morbid sleep problems…Multiple studies have shown that roughly 75 percent of children and adults with ADHD have sleep-onset insomnia.”

Shared etiology for sleep problems and certain childhood behavioral disorders like ADHD? Well, no kidding. However, both obviously can be caused by parents who don't know how to discipline their kids. In the case of ADHD, many of today’s parents let their children stay up half the night playing video games. And then the kids are too sleepy to concentrate the next day. Doctors who do not ask about such things then diagnose them with ADHD.

This sleep pattern also leads to the circadian rhythm disturbances (getting days and nights mixed up) described by Kooij. Of course, the discipline problems in the houses of these kids are hardly limited to bedtime. Inconsistent, abusive, and/or just plain absent discipline lead to children acting out. You know, showing the "symptoms" of oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. (The latter used to be called “juvenile delinquency”). Acting out by any other name.