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Methylphenidate Does Not Improve Cognitive Function in Healthy Sleep-Deprived Young Adults
  1. Christopher L. Bray,
  2. Kevin S. Cahill,
  3. Joseph T. Oshier,
  4. Carmen S. Peden,
  5. Douglas W. Theriaque,
  6. Terence R. Flotte,
  7. Peter W. Stacpoole
  1. From the General Clinical Research Center (D.W.T., P.W.S.), Powell Gene Therapy Center, University of Florida Genetics Institute (T.R.F.), Department of Medicine (Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism) (P.W.S.), Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (P.W.S.), Pediatrics (T.R.F.), and MD/PhD Program (P.W.S., C.L.B., K.S.C., J.T.O., C.S.P), University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL.
  2. Supported by General Clinical Research Center Grant RR00082.
  3. Address correspondence to: Mr. Christopher Bray, College of Medicine, University of Florida, PO Box 101042, Gainesville, FL 32610-1042; e-mail: cbray{at}


Background Abuse of methylphenidate, a treatment of attentiondeficit/hyperactivity disorder, is reported to be increasing among students for the purpose of improving cognition.

Methods A single capsule, containing methylphenidate (20 mg) or placebo, was administered to healthy young adults orally following 24 hours of sleep deprivation. Measurements included percent change in score from sleep-deprived baseline on four standardized tests of cognitive function: Hopkins Verbal Learning, Digit Span, Modified Stroop, and Trail Making tests. Measurements also included percent changes in blood pressure and heart rate from sleepdeprived baseline and plasma methylphenidate concentration.

Results Differences in cognitive test performance were not observed between intervention groups. In subjects receiving methylphenidate, mean percent changes from baseline for systolic blood pressure and heart rate were increased relative to placebo between 90 and 210 minutes following capsule administration (maximum increases of 9.45% and 11.03%, respectively). The timing of peak differences in physiologic measures did not correlate with peak serum methylphenidate concentrations. Exit questionnaire ratings of “capsule effect” and perceived performance on the postcapsule administration of the most challenging cognitive test were both higher (p = .044 and p = .009, respectively) for the methylphenidate group than for the placebo group.

Conclusions Cognitive improvement among sleep-deprived young adults was not observed following methylphenidate administration. Benefits perceived by abusers may relate to increased confidence and sense of well-being, as well as to sympathetic nervous system stimulation. Moreover, methylphenidate administration results in physiologic effects that could be harmful to certain individuals.

  • Words: methylphenidate/pharmacology
  • sleep deprivation
  • central nervous system stimulants/pharmacology
  • cognitive testing/drug effects
  • heart rate/drug effects
  • stimulant abuse
  • student
  • human

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