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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ADHD and Cell Phones 

US Department of Transportation officials have called for a ban on teenagers driving with cell phones. While I'm all for people not talking and driving, this is an example of really bad easy-out policy making. It's not just teenagers who've been shown to be more dangerous while talking on the phone and driving: it's just that you can't make rules like that on adults, because they would vote you out of office. You go after kids, so that when they turn 18, 21, 25 or whatever, they not only fail to magically become safe and responsible drivers, they also have to essentially re-learn how to drive - at night, with passengers, on the cell, whatever.

Wholly unrelated, but also interesting: Israeli researchers claim that many kids diagnosed with ADHD are, in fact, just tired. The team says that when kids are sleepy, they tend to be cranky, impulsive, and may be overactive in attempting to compensate and keep themselves awake, and that giving them stimulants (like Ritalin) is effective because it reduces tiredness.

Now, I would love to believe that ADHD could be cured by letting kids get more/better sleep - I have a long series of thoughts about how kids today are pressured by over-achieving parents to do everything - but I seriously doubt this is the case.

First of all. Stimulants' work against ADHD is fairly well explained by the reaction curve,* and while the tiredness hypothesis makes intuitive sense, intuitive sense is not always a good bet in biology. Secondly, I'd have to see the data to be sure, but there is little doubt that improving sleep quality will improve school performance, so that could easily be an artifact.

* Imagine your state of arousal like a curve or half-circle. If non-ADHD people are naturally at about 30 degrees on that curve, taking stimulants pushes them 'forward' 60 degrees to 90 - the top, so they get hyper. Similarly, if ADHD people are naturally at 80 degrees, taking stimulants pushes them 60 degree 'forward' to 140 - which is lower on the arousal scale than where they started.

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