Drugs Often Used for Insomnia in Kids

Doctors Issue Drugs Often at Parents' Request, but Experts Question Safety

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Her study reveals that the over-the-counter medications most often recommended to parents for insomnia in kids were antihistamines such as Benadryl and "nighttime" pain and cold relievers. Among prescription drugs, doctors typically relied on blood pressure medications such as Catapres, prescription-strength antihistamines, or antidepressants.

Two in three doctors said they might not use drugs to treat insomnia in kids because it gives parent the wrong message about correct treatment, while a slight majority were concerned about long-term side effects.

The study findings concern at least one expert who was not involved in the study. He tells WebMD that while there are good reasons for medicating children to help them to sleep, it should be done only after a thorough examination into possible causes -- and not for the convenience of parents or to treat behavior problems.

"Medication is rarely indicated when children have a hard time falling asleep," says Stephen Sheldon, DO, FAAP, medical director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "And when it is, being used to control behavior is probably not the right reason.

"Under certain circumstances, when traveling across many time zones, it may be appropriate to change the sleep-wake cycle to prevent jet lag. But those and other reasons are special circumstances, and as with anything else, caution needs to be used," Sheldon tells WebMD. "If there is a good medical indication for giving medication, then OK. But even over-the-counter medications can have serious side effects. And using drugs to control behavior or to allow parents to get some sleep may not be appropriate. There are special-needs children who have difficulty on a regular basis getting to sleep because of autism or ADHD, and they should be seen by a specialist. But for an otherwise normal child, it's rare they need medication."

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SOURCES: Pediatrics, May 2003. Carol L. Rosen, MD, associate professor of pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; medical director, Pediatric Sleep Services, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland. Stephen Sheldon, DO, FAAP, associate professor of pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; medical director, Sleep Medicine Center, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; spokesman, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
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