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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Eating and Sleeping Schedules and ADD

01/07/1999

Question:

My boyfriend's son was just put on Adderall a few weeks ago. At first he was not eating anything at all and was only getting a few hours of sleep a night. We contacted his doctor and they lowered his dosage which has helped alot. He eats better and has gotten a little more sleep, until he went to his mother's for the weekend. While theree he talked her into letting him stay up all hours and sleep in real late. This caused him to take his dosages to close together. Also, we stress that he drinks juices, sports drinks things of that nature to try to get some nutrients in his body and that he eat fruits, vegetables, and things that are good for him. Not sugar, candy, chips, pop, and overall junk. While he was at his mother's she let him eat whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and most of it was junk food and stuff high in sugar. How important a role does sugar play into Attention Deficit Disorder? And should we try to keep him on a regular sleep and eating schedule or let him eat and sleep whenever and whatever he will eat? Our main concern is for school reasons that he should be kept on a regular schedule but we also want him to eat and get enough rest.

Answer:

You have raised several important questions. First, regarding sugar. Several researchers have looked at this from a few different angles and their findings have generally been that sugar has no effect on behavior of children whose parent(s) say they feel sugar makes them "hyper". HOWEVER, my experience as a family physician, ADD expert and parent strongly suggests otherwise, so it is always a difficult question for me. I tend to think that the right questions were not asked in the research (e.g., perhaps if the question was "for children with verified ADD, are there times such as in active group play or when the parent is tense, or...etc."). However, as important as wisdom is, I can't dismiss the studies. Additionally, although I always stress the importance of a well balanced diet, it is hard to say what effect a periodic two days (weekend) of junk food has. What I do tell parents is "Decide for yourself. It certainly does not hurt, and likely helps for diverse reasons, to restrict refined sugar and junk food." You may also get benefit from reading the answer to the "Diet and Behavior Modification" question in this ADD Expert area from 10/25/98. Second, in general, regular sleep schedules are best for all of us. In addition, most persons with ADD respond best to regular schedules in many things. However, there are often specific family exceptions to this. For instance, a teenager staying up until 1 a.m. to talk with friends may be experiencing something more important to his/her development than always getting to bed on Fridays by 11 p.m. The key words here are EXCEPTIONS and MAY. There is no way to predict what is best for your boyfriend's son without knowing him and the family. Finally, it sounds like your family unit and his mother's family unit vary a great deal in approaches. Perhaps, if your boyfriend agrees with your concerns, he could speak with his son's family doctor. If s/he is unable to give the guidance hoped for, strongly consider some family counseling. A good counselor is often a wonderful asset to two-household families.

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Response by:

Susan Louisa Montauk, MD
Formerly Professor of Family Medicine
University of Cincinnati