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According to a study conducted in 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control, over six million children had been diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 2-17. Psychiatrists are not completely sure why there are so many more children being diagnosed, but there are several valid theories. While ADHD may be overdiagnosed, the criteria for diagnosis have not changed during that time. One theory is that there is a push for kids to be medicated in order to excel academically. Another explanation is that there are dramatic lifestyle changes in the lives of children today as compared to ten years ago that can cause symptoms mimicking the disorder.

It’s clear that children today spend less time playing outside {link to play blog} than they have in the past and much of that play is on concrete instead of grass. There are screens everywhere; televisions, computers, smartphones, and tablets and the allure of those devices tend to be much more compelling than fresh air and open fields. Changing family and economic dynamics also means that kids spend more time indoors at school, daycare, and after-school programs than they do at home. Studies show that only 6% of kids will play outside if given a choice. Research also shows that the more sunshine kids are exposed to, the less likely they are to even develop ADHD in the first place.

The benefits of natural sunlight exposure extend beyond attention disorders. Sunlight also helps regulate sleep cycles. Having healthy sleep habits aids in easing hyperactivity in children. Since exposure to the light from electronic devices inhibits production of melatonin, the chemical that regulates sleep cycles, the damage to sleep habits is compounded by lack of sunlight and hours spent using tablets and watching television. All of these factors, combined with changes in family dynamics that might prevent stable daily routines, means that kids are not getting enough sleep, and the sleep they are getting is of low quality.

Scientists are studying whether ADHD is genetic. If so, rates of diagnosis should be relatively stable. The same symptoms that characterize the disorder, however, may be caused by environmental and social factors. A combination of lack of sunlight and outside exercise and play, too much time looking at electronic screens, and poor sleep habits contribute to kids to be tired, over-stimulated, and unable to focus.