Sleep Drugs Often Prescribed for Kids
Study Shows Children With Sleeping Problems Are Frequently Treated With Medication
Aug. 1, 2007 -- Children with sleep problems are likely to be prescribed a
sleeping pill or other medication approved only for adults, according to a new
When researchers from The Ohio State University and the University of
Missouri evaluated 18.6 million children's doctor visits for sleep problems,
they found that 81% of visits included a prescription for a medication. The
study appears in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Sleep.
"The findings raise concern because of the large number of patients
affected," says researcher Milap C. Nahata, PharmD. Nahata is professor and
division chairman at Ohio State's College of Pharmacy and professor of
pediatrics and internal medicine at the College of Medicine. "We tend to
jump on medication right away."
While he and other sleep experts agree that medication may sometimes help
children with sleep problems, they suggest medication is best used in
combination with other approaches, such as behavioral therapy. Nahata tells
WebMD that studies of the medications in children are needed.
Prescription Patterns for Children With Sleeping Problems
For the study, Nahata and his colleagues evaluated information from a large
database, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, from 1993 to 2004, to
find out what doctors prescribed or advised when young patients came in for
help with sleep problems.
Children were aged 17 and under, all experiencing sleep difficulties such as
insomnia. Most visits were by children ages 6 to 12. Pediatricians,
psychiatrists, family practice doctors, and others saw the patients.
Among the medications prescribed were sleeping pills such as Ambien and
Sonata as well as other medications sometimes prescribed to help sleep
problems, such as the antihistamine Atarax, the antidepressant Desyrel, and the
high blood pressure medicine Catapres.
Antihistamines were most often prescribed for the children's sleep problems,
given in 33% of the visits, followed by blood pressure drugs (26%),
benzodiazepines such as the sleeping pill Restoril (15%), antidepressants (6%),
and nonbenzodiazepine drugs such as the sleeping pills Ambien and Sonata
Doctors prescribing the medications that are not approved for use in
children did so "off-label," a legal and common practice.
Nahata says his team did the study because there has not been a large study
on the topic so far. The results surprised him, he tells WebMD.
"I was thinking one-third [of visits would involve prescription
medication]," he says. Beyond the scope of the study, he says, was whether
the medications prescribed were appropriate for the condition and how long the
children used them.