Record numbers of people are being diagnosed with A.D.H.D (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
This is because so many people suffer from classic symptoms; procrastination, forgetfulness, a propensity to lose things, the inability to pay attention consistently, and often excessive movement and waking during the night.
But amidst the hundreds of thousands of newly diagnosed patients each year, are large numbers of misdiagnosed patients.
This is happening because one important diagnostic criterion is being ignored: the symptoms must date back to the patient's childhood. Without this criterion, A.D.H.D is the wrong diagnosis. So what then are all these people suffering from?
The obvious place to look first is lack of sleep. Researchers are increasingly seeing connections between dysfunctional sleep and what looks like A.D.H.D., but those links are taking too long to be understood by parents and doctors.
Classic A.D.H.D symptoms mirror classic sleep deficit symptoms. Lack of sleep makes us restless, irritable, unable to concentrate, forgetful and lethargic. We end up procrastinating and being unproductive, and believing there is something medically wrong with us, when in fact we simply need to stop losing sleep.
It should also be noted that sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy – especially in children, who instead may become hyperactive and unfocused.
Do All These Children Really Have A.D.H.D?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of school-age children have now received a diagnosis of the condition because they are at the age where procrastination, forgetfulness, a propensity to lose things and the inability to pay attention consistently are key indicators of A.D.H.D.
But is it really feasible that all these children suffer the same condition? Or is it more feasible that these children need more sleep?
Adequate sleep is crucial for children. Children need more delta sleep — the deep, rejuvenating kind — for proper growth and development.
Yet today’s children sleep more than an hour less than they did a hundred years ago. One study, published in 2004 in the journal Sleep, looked at 34 children with A.D.H.D. Every one of them showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a handful of the 32 control subjects.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder does start in childhood, but before allowing children to be prescribed A.D.H.D drugs, we should be taking a closer look at the time they go to bed, the computer/phone stimulation they receive before sleep, the amount of proper mental and physical exercise they do during the day.
Do You Really Have A.D.H.D?
The same goes for adults, too. The number of adults who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours each night went from some 2 percent in 1960 to more than 35 percent in 2011.
Our schedules are busier, and our lives consumed by melatonin inhibiting technology devices. This sleep-restricting lifestyle has become more extreme over the last 25 years (since the 1990s), which is the same decade we saw an explosion in A.D.H.D. diagnoses. Coincidence? I think not.
Don't be too quick to medicate yourself or your child. Before convincing yourself and your doctor that you have A.D.H.D, first take a thorough look at your sleeping habits.
This post was adapted from Vatsal G. Thakkar's article in the New York Times – Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit