Medications used to treat symptoms for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be causing sleep problems in children, according to a new study.

A new analysis published in the journal Pediatrics found that kids on these stimulant medications take significantly longer to fall asleep, have poorer quality sleep and sleep for shorter periods. [1]

“It can be a delay in sleep onset, sleep duration so kids are not getting as much sleep through the course of the night and having a bit more difficulty falling asleep,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman of North Shore-LIJ’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.

An estimated 7% of children worldwide purportedly suffer from ADHD. The condition is marked by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that 5% of American children have ADHD, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 11% of American children suffer with the disorder.

For the new study, researchers analyzed 9 previous studies involving 246 children and teens that looked at the relationship between ADHD medications and sleep.

“Sleep was worse in every analysis that we did,” said study author Katherine M. Kidwell, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska.

“Children with ADHD tend to have terrible sleep already,” Kidwell said. “And then, when they are on stimulant medications, their sleep just gets even worse.” [2]

Kidwell said that parents shouldn’t take their kids off the medications, but noted that the findings suggest that doctors and pediatricians should ask young patients and their parents about any sleep problems in weighing whether the benefits and risks of stimulants when considering whether to prescribe the one of the drugs to a child.

“We’re not saying don’t use stimulant medications to treat ADHD,” Timothy Nelson, an associate professor of psychology the University of Nebraska-Lincoln involved in the study, said in a statement. “They are well tolerated in general and there is evidence for their effectiveness. But physicians need to weigh the pros and cons in any medication decision, and considering the potential for disrupted sleep should be part of that cost-benefit analysis with stimulants.” [3]

About 3.5 million children in the U.S. are prescribed stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin, the most common treatments for ADHD.

A CDC report released in September showed the number of ADHD diagnoses have increased dramatically in recent years partly because 1 in 5 children are improperly diagnosed. In a survey of 2,976 families, doctors relied solely on family members’ reports to diagnose kids with ADHD in 18% of cases. This means that, potentially, a massive number of children are taking powerful medications for a condition they don’t even have.

For children who legitimately have ADHD, the problem can often be treated naturally with changes in diet (eliminating sugar, processed grains and other foods that affect blood sugar), lifestyle changes (more activity, less sitting) and herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ginkgo biloba, green oats and gotu kola.

A recent study also suggests that medical marijuana may be more effective at treating ADHD than Adderall.


[1] WebMD

[2] Livescience

[3] CBS News
By Julie Fidler

(Source:; November 28, 2015;