Can ADHD Be Treated Like a Sleep Disorder?

A drug used to treat narcolepsy has positive effects on ADHD

[DIGEST: NYTimes, NCBI, New Scientist, PR Newswire]

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be a controversial diagnosis, particularly for children; one only has to meet 6 of 18 criteria to qualify as ADHD, which is characterized by the kinds of behaviors children often exhibit, such as hyperactivity, trouble organizing their time, distracted attention, and lack of focus. ADHD is also typically treated with potent and addictive stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall that some parents are not comfortable giving to children. Of course, adults are also diagnosed with the disorder, though the adult category of the illness didn’t even make it to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) until 1980. Since then, 6.4 million children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed, and approximately 10 million adults have also been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States.

Researchers don’t entirely understand ADHD, which often co-occurs with other mental disorders and may have more in common with sleep disorders. There’s some evidence of signaling problems in the brains of those with ADHD as well as those with sleep disorders, meaning that executive functions—which help the brain prioritize actions and pay attention—are not working properly, but researchers are still grasping at a full understanding of why. One theory is that the circadian rhythms of people with ADHD are disrupted or off, confusing the times of day when they are sleepy or alert.

New research into a drug that typically treats narcolepsy and unusual daytime sleepiness may provide an alternate treatment approach and a new understanding of this perplexing disorder.

Eric Konofal, MD, PhD., a senior medical consultant at the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center and clinical investigator at Pharmacogenetic Department of Robert-Debré Hospital, set out to test the efficacy of mazindol, a central nervous system stimulant, which blocks re-uptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. It mimics a chemical produced by the brain called orexin, a natural stimulant that controls both wakefulness and appetite,

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