In a research review published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers concluded that medication used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be contributing to sleep problems by keeping children awake.
Researchers found that some children who took the stimulant medications prescribed for ADHD struggled to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. These drugs include Concerta, Adderall, and Ritalin, all of which list sleep problems among the potential side effects.
Studies regarding sleep problems and ADHD medications have found conflicting results in the past. It’s important to note that kids with ADHD often struggle sleeping, regardless of whether they take medication. Individuals with ADHD often complain they have trouble relaxing at night while their brain continues to churn. However, some studies have argued medication can improve sleep by alleviating ADHD symptoms.
The team who conducted the research review examined results of seven clinical trials that focused on ADHD. In each trial, kids with ADHD were assigned to take a stimulant or to not take any medication.
The kids who took stimulants on average struggled more with sleep. For example, kids who took the generic of Ritalin slept about 20 minutes less than kids who took placebos. Sleep deprivation can make concentrating while awake even more difficult.
The point of this review was not to discourage parents from giving their kids medication but rather to encourage a dialogue between parents and healthcare providers about sleep challenges. Adjusting the type, dosage, or timing of medication could improve sleep.
The researchers concluded the more frequently a child took medication, the longer the child took to fall asleep. Swapping to an extended-release medication that is taken once per day could alleviate this.
Parents may also need to examine sleeping habits. Ensure your child has a bedtime routine, including a set time to turn out the light and a time an hour or two before that when you turn off all electronics.
A restful night’s sleep is key to healthy brain development, which is particularly important for young people.
Overall, this study provided additional information about a known side effect of ADHD medications.
There are of course other side effects possible with ADHD medication, and parents should discuss the side effects, as well as potential pros and cons of medication, with their child’s pediatrician.