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Keywords:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder;
  • Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children;
  • sleep

Summary

Associations between sleep duration and disturbance in infancy and early childhood and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnoses were investigated. Data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a population-based prospective longitudinal birth-cohort study of children born in 1991–1992 in South-West England, were employed. Eight thousand, one hundred and ninety-five children were assessed using the Development and Well-Being Assessment. One hundred and seventy-three cases (2.1%) met criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parental report at eight time points showed children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder slept less than peers. Absolute differences were small and mainly restricted to night-time sleep, with no strong evidence of differences from controls, except at 69 months [5 years 9 months; 12 min (95% CI: 5–19), P = 0.001], at 81 months [6 years 9 months; 15 min (95% CI: 8–22), P < 0.001] and at 115 months [9 years 7 months; 11 min (95% CI: 4–18), P = 0.001]. The attention deficit hyperactivity disorder group had more night-waking at every age, significant from about 5 years. When tracking children's sleep along a normative centiles chart, a shift in sleep duration from one centile to a lower centile was a useful predictor of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Age-specific decreases of >1SD in sleep duration across adjacent time points was a significant predictor of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at 3–5 years (P = 0.047). In children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, shorter sleep duration and sleep disturbances appear early and predate the usual age of clinical diagnosis. The rate of change of sleep duration relative to an individual, rather than absolute sleep duration at any stage, may prove beneficial in identifying increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.