• Article

Methylphenidate does not improve cognitive function in healthy sleep-deprived young adults


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


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 sleep-deprived baseline and plasma methylphenidate concentration.


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.


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.


Bray, C. L., Cahill, K. S., Oshier, J. T., Peden, C. S., Theriaque, D., Flotte, T. R., & Stacpoole, P. W. (2004). Methylphenidate does not improve cognitive function in healthy sleep-deprived young adults. Journal of Investigative Medicine, 52(3), 192 - 201. https://doi.org/10.1136/jim-52-03-34

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