An Open Letter to the Today Show

They said what?!

Dear Today Show Family,

I’m a Today Show junkie. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I tune in and within minutes I know the weather forecast, how to make a refreshing Gazpacho and that, unfortunately, ‘80s fashions are back in style. I trust Matt, Natalie, Al and Savannah to give me infotainment that has been thoroughly researched and interview experts who actually know the best food excursions in Puerto Vallarta or if gum really does take seven years to digest (no). At the very least, I expect them to know more than I do.  

However, I am sad to say that this morning my trust in you was irrevocably destroyed. I watched my friend Natalie interview two “pediatric sleep specialists” who advised parents how to get kids back on good sleep cycles for the beginning of the school year. As I was half listening to their proficient benign advice while making my bed, I heard Natalie ask, “If kids don’t get the optimal amount of sleep, what kind of behavior problems do we see?” To which one of these sleep specialists answered, “ADHD, learning disorders, anxiety and depression, obesity ... studies show kids really don’t perform as well in school which is really no surprise.”

Wait, what? I absolutely could not have heard that correctly. My head snapped up like my dog’s does when I say “ball” and I saw, emblazoned across the bottom of the screen, “Poor sleeping habits may lead to ADHD, obesity, learning disorders and behavioral problems.”

Yep, I heard correctly, this self-proclaimed expert said lack of sleep can cause ADHD and learning disabilities. I can just imagine thousands of parents thinking all their learning disabled kid needed was a few good night's sleep and all would be right in their world. Really, Today Show?!

Although I was 99.9 percent sure this statement was not at all valid, I researched this claim anyway. This is what I know for sure (from www.help4adhd.org/en/treatment/coexisting/WWK5D):

  • Two-thirds of children with ADHD are reported to have at least one co-existing condition.
  • The most common co-existing conditions include learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, behavioral disorders and sleep disorders.
  • Since sleep disorders can mimic ADHD symptoms, children who have sleep problems can be misdiagnosed with ADHD.

I have read that snoring can lead to ADHD due to either poor sleep or a drop of oxygen in the blood. But, in each article I read identifying snoring as a cause of ADHD, the ADHD symptoms usually dramatically improve with better sleep, thus raising the question as to the validity of the ADHD diagnosis.

Just to make double-sure, I called my go-to for all things cognitive, neuropsychologist Dr. Ellen Preen, and read her the quote. After she stopped laughing, she informed me that this was indeed, as I thought, “pseudoscience.” 

She explained that “there is a correlation relationship between sleep disorders and ADHD/learning disabilities, but no causality.” What does this mean? In causality, one thing causes the other, like smoking causes lung cancer. But in a correlation, certain things may happen at the same time but one does not cause the other. 

According to Dr. Preen, ”there is no causation between sleep deprivation and learning disorders and ADHD.” She went on to say, “a person with prolonged sleep deprivation can exhibit symptoms of ADHD, learning difficulties, and/or mood disorders; and exacerbate these preexisting conditions.” When someone is sleep deprived, all they need to do is get caught up on their sleep and magically, no more symptoms!

Today Show family, I am very disappointed in you. How many other un-and-half truths have you told me? How many other pseudo-experts sat opposite Matt or Savannah or Natalie misleading your loyal followers? For these reasons, I feel I must end our longstanding relationship. It’s not you, it’s me. Also, I kind of have a thing for George Stephanopoulos.


Sue Schaefer, M. ED., M.A.T

Proclaimed an Education Expert by my Friends and Others Who Know What They’re Talking About

About this column: Susan Schaefer, director and founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an academic coach, student advocate, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com. You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

john davidson September 03, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Knight Crawler your welcome to join in..............I think Ive presented and defended my position here quite well. If you have anything to say please do Id be most open to what you may have to say.
Nightcrawler September 03, 2012 at 01:56 PM
No thanks, John. Your pro-smoking argument has lost. If you want to have some impact with it, suggest you brush up on your Russian and eastern European languages and take your ranting to places where there's still time to save the habit.
Brian L. September 03, 2012 at 02:23 PM
You have listed your statistics John but also decided that all the statistics arguing the other stance are lies. Saying only the opposition is "junk science" while taking your own for perfect statistics is a very flawed argument. You did make some points and back them up, but ignoring everything else isn't the right way to approach a query.
I respectfully disagree w/you Sue since I have read nothing that definitively says which is the chicken & which is the egg here. I have however, read many articles written by M.D.'s throughout the years that mention lack of sleep & issues like sleep apnea prominently in ADHD symptoms. I have included 2 but here, are many more. I have also seen books ab the effects of electric light/computer screen light on trends in disease-not just ADHD- many other diseases. That is real science and while I am not saying that the symptoms of ADHD are 1 dimensional & certainly could be related to more than one thing, I think it is somewhat disrespectful to characterize it like this based on many parents who want natural intervention & are not into diagnosing & immediate medication. There is also the group who have done the medication route & have read everything they can get their hands on & don't feel good about the 1 sided view. I have read many articles from Medical Docs/Neurologists like Fred Baughman M.D. & Peter Breggin M.D. as well, who can provide lots of info to the contrary of your laughing Neuro friend. So, I would suggest that the jury is still out on this one & ALL factors need to be considered. Since I saw many changes in my own home with a small change in sleep habits, pseudoscience or not, I have to believe that there is something to it. http://www.drgreene.com/article/sleep-deprivation-and-adhd http://thedubinclinic.com/2012/04/24/childhood-adhd-sleep-deprivation/
Sorry typo. My own sleep issues...... "I have included 2 but there are many more."


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