From Dr. Mercola:
Nearly 10 percent of U.S. children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1 The condition is described as “one of the most common childhood disorders” by the National Institute of Mental Health, but its symptoms can be ambiguous.2
For instance, a child who has difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and who is hyperactive may be diagnosed with this condition. The problem is that all children may display these symptoms, albeit some more than others.
Only those whose behaviors are “more severe” or occur “more often” for six months or more are supposed to be diagnosed with ADHD, but even these are subjective criteria.
There is no test or other objective way to detect children with ADHD, so often they’re diagnosed based on the observations of parents, teachers, and, sometimes, a mental health professional.
While psychotherapy is sometimes offered to children with ADHD, the most common treatment for ADHD are stimulant drugs.3 ADHD drugs are the most common psychotropic drugs used by children (tied for first place with antidepressants).4
The use of such drugs is controversial for a number of reasons, which were recently highlighted by the first comprehensive systematic review of their benefits and harms.
ADHD Drugs Offer Only Moderate Benefits, Increase Risk of Sleep Problems, and Appetite Loss
Anyone considering the use of ADHD drugs must carefully consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. In the case of methylphenidate (brand names Ritalin, Concerta, Medikinet, and Equasym), this is highly questionable.
Research published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found the drug may lead to modest improvements in symptoms, general behavior, and quality of life.5
However, the modest benefit was based on poor-quality studies, leading the researchers to caution against using the drug without careful consideration. Study author Dr. Morris Zwi, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, said:6
“Our expectations of this treatment are probably greater than they should be Whilst our review shows some evidence of benefit, we should bear in mind that this finding was based on very low-quality evidence.
What we still need are large, well-conducted trials to clarify the risks versus the benefits.”
The systematic review also found the drug is associated with an increased risk of sleep problems and appetite loss. Overall, those taking methylphenidate had a 29 percent increased risk of experiencing a non-serious adverse event, the most common of which were sleep problems and decreased appetite.
Among children taking the drug, the risks were especially pronounced. Compared to the control group, children taking methylphenidate had a 60 percent greater risk for trouble sleeping/sleep problems and a 266 percent greater risk for decreased appetite.
Stimulant Drugs May Harm Sleep for Kids with ADHD
A separate study published in Pediatrics also found that stimulant medications such as Ritalin may harm children’s sleep.7
Although the drugs have stimulant effects, they may have a calming effect on children with ADHD, and some have suggested the drugs may improve sleep by reducing