Study Indicates ADHD Children May Just Need Sleep, Not Medication



A study by Israeli researchers shows treatment of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders in children can lead to a significant reduction in symptoms associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The study found that children diagnosed with ADHD had much higher levels of sleepiness during the day than did non-ADHD youngsters. Dr. Giora Pillar is head of the Pediatric Sleep Lab at the largest hospital in northern Israel, and an associate professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which conducted the study.

Pillar says sleep apnea or sleep disturbances can lead to daytime sleepiness — and children who sleep throughout the day do not fall asleep unintentionally like adults, but rather become hyperactive.

“They start to be fidgety and nervous, and these are actually the symptoms of ADHD,” Dr. Pillar explains. “[W]hen you treat [and correct] the sleep problem, they all of a sudden become more alert during the day. They are more focused, they can concentrate better, they behave better — and their symptoms of ADHD are actually relieved.”

Pillar and his team studied 66 children with an average age of 12, 34 of whom had already been diagnosed with ADHD. The remainder served as a control group. The researchers found the ADHD-diagnosed children had significantly higher levels of sleepiness during the day than those in the control group.

According to Pillar, children with even mild sleep deprivation can develop symptoms of ADHD. And ADHD-diagnosed children, he adds, often just need quality sleep instead of medication. But he emphasizes that drugs like Ritalin — a common treatment for ADHD — do have their place.

“We are not against Ritalin. We think that Ritalin is a very good and appropriate medication when indicated,” the researcher says. “But in cases when the ADHD is secondary to sleep problems like sleep apnea, then children should not get Ritalin in the morning, but rather [treatment for] the sleep disorder in the evening.”

For example, he says if children diagnosed with ADHD kick their legs frequently or periodically during the night, they may have Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, which has relatively better treatment than Ritalin. The researchers urge parents to apply other treatments — such as enforcement of good sleeping habits and restriction from caffeinated drinks at night — before considering medication.

The research team's findings were published in the February 2004 issue of the journal SLEEP.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)

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