Sleep is a vital part of life, but if you live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), your relationship with sleep might feel strained.
Having trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, and sticking to a regular sleep routine are common challenges among adults living with ADHD.
Lack of sleep can make focusing and completing tasks — two things that may already be difficult for people with ADHD — even more challenging. Although treatable, these sleep issues may leave you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.
But what is the link between sleep trouble and ADHD symptoms? Experts are not yet clear on the answer.
If you live with symptoms of ADHD, you know getting a night of good sleep can be hard at times.
The link between ADHD and sleep disturbances is not yet clear, though.
Many people with ADHD experience:
- persistent difficulty falling asleep
- difficulty waking up in the morning
- daytime sleepiness
- higher chance of developing sleep disorders
- frequent sleep interruptions during the night
frequent nightmares, particularly in children
Not everyone with ADHD experiences sleep problems.
If you live with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, you’re more likely to experience difficulty falling asleep and daytime sleepiness. If you live with inattentive ADHD, you may experience more issues related to poor sleep quality.
What comes first? Do people with ADHD experience these disturbances as a consequence of their symptoms, or are these ADHD symptoms causing the disturbances in sleep patterns?
Research suggests that, for some people, sleep challenges may develop prior to symptoms of ADHD. In fact, a
The same review also suggested that the link between sleep and ADHD may be bidirectional. Sleep challenges may precede ADHD symptoms and make someone more prone to the disorder, but those disturbances may also worsen existing symptoms of the condition.
For a child or adult living with ADHD and experiencing symptoms like lack of focus, fidgeting, and brain fog, it may be difficult to tell if they’re being caused by the disorder or by sleep disturbances.
Some regions of the brain regulate both sleep patterns and attention. In fact, research suggests that structural differences in these areas of the brain may be associated with both ADHD symptoms and sleep disturbances, even though not everyone who experiences one will experience the other.
According to the same research, genetics may also be involved.
Some sleep disorders are more common among people with ADHD. These include:
Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB)
SDB can cause snoring and difficulty breathing while sleeping. This, in turn, can lead you to constantly wake up during the night, and wake up feeling poorly rested in the morning.
Treatments for SDB can include:
- changes in nutritional habits
- regular exercise during the day
- avoiding alcohol and tobacco before bedtime
- surgery (if, for example, the breathing difficulty is caused by an obstruction)
Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
Those with RLS — also called Willis-Ekbom disease — may experience unpleasant physical sensations in their legs. As a result, they have an urge to move during periods of rest, including during sleep.
Treatments can include:
- iron supplements
- antiseizure medications
- intensive hydration
- avoiding alcohol and tobacco before bedtime or altogether
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
These sleep disorders happen when your internal clock and your environment become misaligned. This can lead to extreme sleepiness during the day, high levels of stress, and insomnia.
- making lifestyle changes to help reset your internal clock
- taking melatonin supplementation
- receiving bright light therapy during the day
- sleeping in dark, quiet, and cool environments
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it hard for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get good quality sleep in general.
- avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
- avoiding heavy meals before bedtime
- undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy
- sleeping in dark, quiet, and cool bedrooms or spaces
People who have narcolepsy can experience persistent and intense daytime sleepiness that affects work and school performance, as well as other daily activities. It may also increase your chances of injury and accidents.
- cognitive behavioral therapy
If you have ADHD and you’re having difficulty falling or staying asleep, it may be a good idea to talk to a health professional.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do at home to start getting better sleep.
Limit evening screen time
The National Institute of Mental Health advises turning off screens at least an hour before bed to help control ADHD-related sleep issues. This can help calm the mind, making it easier to fall asleep when the time comes.
A more recent study also found that exercise can help with ADHD symptoms. So building exercise into your life can work on two fronts.
Pay attention to your caffeine intake
Like some ADHD medications, caffeine is a stimulant, and it’s been
Try relaxation techniques
ADHD can make it difficult to settle in for the night. So actively trying to calm yourself by using relaxation techniques like aromatherapy, yoga, and meditation can help prepare you for sleep and set you up for a better night’s rest.
Relaxation practices could also help with other symptoms of ADHD.
Avoid daytime naps
While it can be tempting to take naps when you’re dealing with sleep problems, it may not be the best option, as it can further disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm.
If possible, it’s a good idea to skip naps. That way, you’ll be more likely to sleep for longer during the night and less likely to feel the need to nap during the day.
Look into bedtime fading
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, bedtime fading may be a good option. It’s usually done by new parents to help align their child’s internal clock.
Bedtime fading involves going to bed later than your natural bedtime to help you fall asleep faster. You’d then gradually begin going to sleep earlier until you reach a time you’re satisfied with.
For example, if you normally go to bed at 10:00 p.m. but spend hours trying to sleep, consider not going to bed until the very moment you feel you’re sleepy.
Try this a couple of times, and then set this later time — something like 12:00 a.m. — as your bedtime. Then, slowly, start going to bed a bit earlier — say, 11:40 a.m. Continue in this fashion until you start falling asleep at the goal time.
Maintain a sleep schedule
Sticking to a set bedtime and waking at the same time each day can help regulate your sleep patterns and lead to better sleep.
This can be difficult to establish, though, especially if you haven’t tried it before. But the longer you stick to your schedule, the easier it tends to be.
For those who have ADHD, sleep issues are a common occurrence — and the two can feed into each other, making it difficult to cope with your symptoms.
However, both ADHD and sleep disturbances can be managed and treated with the help of a healthcare professional.
If you’re ready to reach out for help, consider these links:
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Sleep Center finder
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists