Those posts required a lot of research, which I happily did (I task I gladly take on so you don't have to). But while conducting this research, I started noticing a disturbing pattern.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's have a little discussion first...
Some Facts and Stats About ADHD
According to the CDC, “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder diagnosed in U.S. children.” Most recent data shows that about 10.2% of children in the US have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, and the numbers are on the rise.
They also estimate that “the annual societal ‘cost of illness’ for ADHD is estimated to be between $36 and $52 billion.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that the primary intervention for ADHD in children ages 4-5 should be “evidence-based parent- and/or teacher-administered behavior therapy.” They can also prescribe methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, etc.) if they want.
SIDE NOTE: Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant. In addition to this litany of possible effects (as Chris Kresser likes to say, there are no side effects, only effects), methylphenidate can cause insomnia, headaches, nausea (all of which would affect how well one pays attention, methinks), and even growth problems.
With older children (ages 5-11), the recommendation becomes to automatically prescribe both medication and behavior therapy.
That’s all well and good on paper, but studies provided by the CDC show that:
- Less than 1 in 3 children with ADHD received both medication treatment and behavior therapy, the preferred treatment approach for children ages 6 and older.
- Only half of preschoolers (4-5 years of age) with ADHD received behavior therapy, which is now the recommended first-line treatment for this group.
- About half of preschoolers with ADHD were taking medication for ADHD, and about 1 in 4 were treated only with medication.
Not only this, but at least one study would argue that not all children taking medications for ADHD even fit the bill in the first place.
How do they diagnose ADHD? Well, that’s left up to the doctor. The recommendation is for a doctor to begin an assessment for ADHD when a child “presents with academic or behavioral problems and symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.” To put it another way, if a child presents with those symptoms, start an assessment for ADHD.
To sum up:
- Diagnosis of ADHD is quite prevalent and on the rise.
- Most children are receiving either medication or no treatment at all, even if behavior therapy is recommended.
- The most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD are stimulants, which affect, among other things, sleep.
Switching Gears for a Sec
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (a division of the National Institutes of Health) says that school-age children need “at least 10 hours a day” of sleep, but somewhere around 25% of children have “sleep and circadian disturbances.”
Even when not severe enough to diagnose a specific condition, these disturbances are “very common” and “people in all age groups report not getting enough sleep.”
A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that, of 632 school-aged children, only 46% were getting right at or more than the minimum recommended 10 hours of sleep each night (while only 19% of parents/caregivers thought their child was getting insufficient sleep),
To sum up:
- Children are not getting enough sleep, even when their parents think they are.
Bringing it All Together
You'll notice I never mentioned the signs and symptoms of ADHD.
Well, that's the what I noticed while doing my research. I'd had similar thoughts and heard notions of this before, but I'd never had it all slammed in my face as much as when I was looking into sleep.
What I noticed was that nearly every discernible symptom of ADHD was also a symptom of sleep deficiency.
To highlight a few of the most glaring similarities:
- Difficulty Focusing
- Difficulty Paying Attention
- Mood Swings
- Impaired Learning
- Impaired Social Interactions
- Lack of Motivation
- Impaired School Performance
Though the phrasing of these symptoms has been modified to fit my nice list, I defy you to look into the topic and not find a disturbing resemblance. In fact, I very purposely took the majority of my lists from the NHLBI (sleep deficiency) and the NIMH (ADHD) - BOTH DIVISIONS OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH!
What Am I Getting At?
I'll readily admit, what I said above does not prove anything. But it's patterns like this that really shed light on how our healthcare system is failing us.
Children are not getting enough sleep. When they don't get enough sleep, they exhibit certain behaviors. When they exhibit certain behaviors, we throw medicine at them rather than looking for an underlying cause.
And what's the biggest difference between a prescription of Ritalin versus a prescription of make healthy sleep habits a priority and do everything you can to both impart the importance of sleep to your child and guarantee that they get adequate, quality sleep every night as part of being a healthy, functional human being?
Well, who profits from the latter?...