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ADHD and Sleep Problems

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder is a developmental pathology. Patients with this pathology cannot fully control their emotions, movements, and attention. ADHD affects millions of people each year, and, in many cases, this state is preserved throughout their adult lives. Approximately 25 to 50% of people suffering from ADHD have sleep disturbance.

What is the Connection Between ADHD and Sleep?

The National Sleep Fund (NSF) data shows that most adults need from 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Babies and older children require 8 to 14 hours of sleep. However, people with ADHD have disturbances in the regulation of excitation and inhibition in the brain. It is more difficult for him to switch off the emotions to enter a resting state in easier words. Even those who are not as hyperactive during the day may experience hopping thoughts and energies at night. With time, insomnia may worsen due to stress, the inability to fall asleep, or frequent awakenings during the night.

Moreover, some studies relate sleep disturbance with a delay in circadian rhythm. 75% of patients with ADHD are diagnosed with a 1.5-hour delay in the physiological sleep phase. Usually, changes to the sleep hormone levels, melatonin, movement regulation, and body temperature occur during this stage. Medications prescribed to patients with ADHD may also cause insomnia.

How do Sleep Problems with ADHD Affect Everyday Life?

There are not many studies on this subject. However, patients themselves often talk about lower quality of life and depressive states in chronic insomnia. Daytime sleepiness seriously stands in the way and can even be dangerous (if it reaches you while driving, for example). Chronic sleep disturbance provokes new unfavorable circumstances — hormonal imbalance, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.

What Sleep Disturbance is Common in Patients with ADHD?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

This syndrome is known as Willis-Ekbom disease and is characterized by being unbearable with more legs due to severe discomfort (pain, pulsation, or irritation while lying down). Moving legs helps to remove the unpleasant symptoms, at least for some time. Scientists claim that RLS is caused by iron and dopamine deficiencies while also related to ADHD.


This is a breathing disturbance during sleep characterized by snoring, respiratory interruptions lasting 10–120 s, and airway obstruction. In severe cases, up to 500 respiratory interruptions may be noticed. This problem is known in one-third of all ADHD patients. Studies have shown that the removal of tonsils helps to solve the problem.

Circadian Rhythm Disturbance

Sleep and wake cycles tell our body when it is time to sleep and when enough rest has been received. This is an internal biological mechanism. That is, the cycle «sleep-awake» works not only due to external stimuli such as darkness and time of the day. Dyssynchronization of clocks and disturbance of circadian rhythms badly affect the general condition of a person. As a result, it can happen that the brain will think that it is day, the liver — that it is night, and hormones – that it is evening. And this may severely damage health.


It is manifested by unexpected and uncontrolled sleep attacks during the day. These people may fall asleep instantly, even when they are busy doing something. This is related to a rapid transfer from waking to deep sleep, skipping the earlier stages of falling asleep. Adults with narcolepsy were twice as likely to develop ADHD as children.

Diagnostics of Sleep Disturbance

Doctors are always cautious in diagnosing sleep disturbance in patients with ADHD due to the similarity of symptoms. Suppose the patient suffering from ADHD is complaining of problems with falling asleep. In that case, the physician will ask to keep a sleep diary, where they will need to note their state during a few weeks.

  • time of going to sleep
  • the time needed to fall asleep
  • number of awakenings during the night
  • problems with waking up in the morning
  • daytime sleep
  • energy levels during the day

Moreover, diagnostics of sleep disturbance are done using various tests.

Advice for Improving Sleep Quality

The success of treatment of sleep disturbance is affected by sleeping pills, psychotherapy, and changes to lifestyle. Try to correct this gradually and note where you see the improvement to develop a system that will work for you. Here are some tips.

  • You need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Try to avoid caffeine and sugar at the end of the day and in the evening.
  • Avoid alcohol, heavy food, and nicotine before bedtime.
  • Light from gadgets slows down the production of melatonin. Therefore, it is not advised to take a smartphone or laptop to bed.
  • It must be dark and a little cool in your bedroom.
  • Make your bed a stress-free zone that is only for sleep and sex.
  • Find a relaxing ritual that you will do before bedtime. For example, yoga, warm baths, or self-massage.
  • Use a weighted ball blanket to make you feel more comfortable.

Having sleep disturbance, in addition to ADHD, is not easy. However, using the correct treatment and changing your lifestyle can significantly decrease the symptoms of ADHD and improve your sleep.

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