ADHD and sleep problems often go hand in hand, making life more challenging. By exploring this connection, we find that when sleep suffers, ADHD symptoms can worsen, and vice versa. Join us as we learn how to improve sleep with ADHD, making life a bit easier.
Understanding the ADHD–sleep connection
ADHD is present in approximately 2.9% of adults and 3–5% of children. This condition is not just about being hyperactive or easily distracted; it's a multifaceted condition with a significant impact on daily life.
According to research, as much as 25–50% of people with ADHD struggle with sleep problems. For instance, the characteristic hyperactivity and inattention associated with ADHD can disrupt normal sleep patterns leading to challenges in both falling asleep and maintaining a restful sleep state. Conversely, poor sleep can intensify the symptoms of ADHD, such as reducing the ability to concentrate and increasing restlessness.
This creates a vicious cycle where ADHD and sleep difficulties exacerbate each other.
Furthermore, this overlap in symptoms poses significant challenges in diagnosis and treatment. It can be difficult to know whether the primary issue is ADHD, poor sleep, or a combination of both. Complicating this further, the side effects of medications prescribed for ADHD can also contribute to sleep disturbances.
How does ADHD affect sleep patterns?
Research shows that chronic sleep deprivation in individuals with ADHD increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. It affects physical health and impairs performance at school or work, leading to daytime sleepiness, irritability, and concentration difficulties.
ADHD and insomnia
Insomnia, characterized by persistent difficulties in falling or staying asleep, is markedly more prevalent among individuals with ADHD.
According to a literature review, children with ADHD are 73% more likely to suffer from insomnia, and among adults with ADHD, the prevalence is 66.8% higher compared to those without the condition.
ADHD and narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and disrupted sleep, which can mimic ADHD symptoms. Adults with narcolepsy often were diagnosed with ADHD when they were kids.
Studies suggest that ADHD and narcolepsy can potentially involve shared brain dysfunction related to how certain brain chemicals are regulated. This overlap may lead to diagnostic confusion and highlights the possibility of a unique subtype within narcolepsy linked to ADHD.
ADHD and circadian rhythm sleep disorders
Studies have found that ADHD is related to changes in certain genes that control our internal body clock and in the pineal gland, an area of the brain that helps regulate sleep. These changes might contribute to sleep problems often seen in this population.
ADHD and restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs and uncomfortable sensations described as crawling, creeping, throbbing, aching, or itching. Up to 44% of those with ADHD experience RLS symptoms, and a significant portion of RLS patients show ADHD-like symptoms.
ADHD and sleep-disordered breathing
Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), including conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, is frequently observed in individuals with ADHD. SDB, characterized by abnormal respiration during sleep, shows a strong association with ADHD, with a notable increase in diagnosis odds among those with a history of snoring or sleep apnea.
Practical tips for better sleep with ADHD
Given the complex relationship between sleep and ADHD, obtaining healthy sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health, improving productivity, and enhancing overall quality of life.
Here are some practical tips to help improve your nightly rest:
- Mindful diet and exercise. What you eat and how you move can significantly impact your sleep. Avoid caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime, as they can disrupt your ability to fall asleep. While regular physical activity is beneficial for sleep, it's best to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime as it can be overly stimulating.
- Daytime activities. Getting enough exercise and sunlight during the day can help regulate your sleep patterns. Sunlight exposure, particularly in the morning, can help maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Relaxing bedtime routine. Establish a calming routine before bed to signal to your body that it's time to wind down. This could include activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques. A consistent routine helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.
- Limiting screen time before bed. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with melatonin production, a hormone crucial for sleep. Try to reduce exposure to TVs, computers, and smartphones at least an hour before bedtime.
- Optimizing the sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. It should be quiet, dark, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains, eye masks, or earplugs to block out light and noise. A comfortable mattress and pillows are also key to a good night's sleep.
- Consistent sleep schedule. Stick to a regular sleep-wake cycle, even on weekends. Consistency reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7–9 hours of sleep for adults, 8–10 hours for teens, and 9–11 hours for children aged 6–13. Aligning your sleep schedule with the natural dark-light cycle can also be beneficial.
Sleep tools and interventions for ADHD
Incorporating sleep tools into the night routine can offer additional support to enhance sleep quality.
- Weighted blankets. These blankets apply gentle pressure on the body, mimicking a therapeutic technique known as deep pressure stimulation. This can help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Dietary supplements. Supplements like melatonin, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve sleep quality in some individuals.
- Behavioral interventions. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective in promoting healthy sleep patterns, impulse control, and stress management.
Prioritizing and improving sleep hygiene can be a powerful step in managing ADHD more effectively and achieving a more balanced and healthier lifestyle. It is crucial to seek personalized support from a healthcare professional if sleep difficulties persist and interfere with daily living. Additionally, before starting any new supplement, consult with a healthcare provider to ensure it is appropriate and safe for your individual health needs.
How much sleep does a person with ADHD need?
Adults with ADHD need 7–9 hours of sleep per night, similar to the general population. Quality sleep is essential, as individuals with ADHD may face sleep disturbances. Ensuring restful sleep is crucial for managing ADHD symptoms and overall health.
Do people with ADHD sleep better with TV on?
Watching TV or using electronic devices before bed can hinder sleep quality for individuals with ADHD. The blue light from screens disrupts melatonin production and the sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to fall asleep. It's best to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Does ADHD make you stay up at night?
ADHD can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep due to hyperactivity, impulsiveness, medication side effects, or co-occurring issues like anxiety and depression. Managing these components is key to improving sleep patterns for those with ADHD.
An estimated 25–50% of people with ADHD struggle with sleep problems.
Overlapping symptoms complicate the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD and sleep disorders.
ADHD is commonly associated with insomnia, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, restless leg syndrome, and sleep-disordered breathing.
Mindful diet and exercise, a stress-free sleep environment, and a consistent sleep schedule may improve sleep and potentially alleviate certain ADHD symptoms.
- Frontiers in psychiatry. A literature review of sleep problems and neurodevelopment disorders.
- Journal of nature and science of sleep. Sleep disorders in patients with ADHD: impact and management challenges.
- Medical sciences. Narcolepsy and Psychiatric Disorders: Comorbidities or Shared Pathophysiology?
- Nutrients. Eating Patterns and Dietary Interventions in ADHD: A Narrative Review.