Newswise – We recently asked the question, how can millions of US kids all have the same disease? Over four million children in this country are being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the past, children’s short attention spans have been blamed on too much television watching. Now experts say the whole problem may be a lack of sleep.

Sleep researchers say that before prescribing Ritalin or other drugs, doctors should question parents about their child’s sleep habits. Children with ADHD are fidgety and seem overstimulated, unable to concentrate in class. If ADHD kids are TOO alert, how can they be sleep-deprived?

This paradox led researcher Dr. Giora Pillar to question whether some children diagnosed with ADHD may in fact be sleepy, and their excessive motor activity merely a way to try to stay awake. This could explain why stimulants like Ritalin, which induce alertness by increasing activity in the central nervous system, are effective for treating children with ADHD.

“Sleepy children, unlike sleepy adults, may demonstrate hyperactivity and attention-deficit behavior rather than excessive daytime sleepiness,” says Pillar. “This theory is supported by parental reports that children, when extremely tired, tend to be cranky, overactive, angry and aggressive.” Every parent recognizes this problem?a cranky baby needs to take a nap.

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

Half of the test subjects with ADHD were found to suffer from some degree of sleep-disordered breathing (such as sleep apnea, which is characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep that last 10 seconds or more, at least five times per hour). And 15% had Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), a relatively uncommon disorder among children. Both these problems can be a result of obesity, and a large number of US children are overweight, mostly due to drinking sugared sodas.

Studies have shown that treatment of these sleep disorders in children often leads to substantial improvements in their behavior and cognitive achievements, and a significant reduction in irritability, bad moods, anger and fear. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control now estimates that 8% of US children suffer from Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and more than half of them (over 4 million) are being treated with drugs.

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