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ADHD-Like Behaviors May Spur Entrepreneurial Activity

A new study suggests that certain behaviors of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as getting a bad night’s sleep, may also be linked to increased entrepreneurial behavior.

“We’re not advocating depriving yourself of sleep to get ahead,” said Jeff Gish, Ph.D., professor of business at the University of Central Florida and co-author of the paper. “We’re saying that there appears to be an interesting link between sleep and entrepreneurship.”

“ADHD-like tendencies can be a benefit, rather than a hindrance in spurring ventures. But there is a potential downside. Even though sleep problems might lure an individual to an entrepreneurial career, if the sleep problems persist they can subsequently leave the individual without the cognitive and emotional competency to be an effective entrepreneur in-practice.”

The new findings, published in the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, suggest that sleep problems might nudge aspiring entrepreneurs to enter self-employment, but does not test the efficacy of subsequent venturing efforts.

Anecdotal information appears to support the idea. According to multiple media reports, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Cisco Systems CEO John T. Chambers, actor Jim Carrey and Hollywood personality Howie Mandel all have ADHD. They are recognized impresarios who have significantly impacted their industries.

The study complements prior research that links sleep deprivation with lower productivity, lethargy and the hindrance of the longer-term success by suggesting that unhealthy sleep may have a limited upside.

Although the findings may counteract recent work advocating for adequate sleep, the results may also “contribute to the de-stigmatization of individuals whose social or personal circumstances place healthy sleep out of reach, [contributing to] greater social acceptance of diversity in sleep patterns.”

The researchers conducted four distinct studies that connected the dots from sleep quality to temporary ADHD-like tendencies and then to entrepreneurial intentions.

In the first study, 350 participants completed pre-experiment surveys. The participants were asked about their sleep and ADHD tendencies in the past six months. Questions aimed to gauge ADHD-like tendencies included things like:

  • How often do you have trouble wrapping up the fine details of a project, once the challenging parts have been done?
  • How often do you have difficulty getting things in order when you have to do a task that requires organization?

To determine entrepreneurial intention, the participants were asked about their intention to start or acquire a business in the next 5-10 years.

Then the group was split into two and they completed additional surveys under two conditions. One group had an uninterrupted night of sleep and woke up the next day to fill out the survey, which asked questions about their sleep quality, ADHD-like tendencies and intent to start a new business.

The second group filled out a total of 10 surveys beginning at 10 pm one night and every hour on the hour until 7 am the following day. This was to create sleep deprivation.

The findings offer experimental evidence for a causal relationship between sleep problems and ADHD-like tendencies. “Our results suggest that disrupted sleep may help nudge people toward acting on their entrepreneurial ideas rather than continuing to ponder them,” said Brian Gunia, Ph.D., a coauthor and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

In the second and third experiments, about 300 people filled out surveys that measured entrepreneurial intentions, followed by measures of ADHD-like tendencies, and sleep problems. Finally, they completed some demographic questions. The results were similar.

Poor sleep quality was associated with greater ADHD-like tendencies, which was linked to heightened entrepreneurial intentions; poor sleep quality was also directly associated with heightened entrepreneurial intentions.

In the previous experiments, the researchers looked at general populations, but now they wanted to see whether their predictions extended to practicing entrepreneurs. So, they surveyed a multi-national panel of 176 practicing entrepreneurs recruited from a mailing list maintained by a business planning software company on the U.S. West Coast.

The participants in this group on average were 43 years-old, had started about two businesses and had been self-employed for at least seven years. Slightly more than half were men. They had the participants complete similar surveys on sleep, ADHD behavior and their intent to start another business.

The results show that impermanent sleep problems can elicit ADHD-like tendencies and can spur on entrepreneurial intent even among practicing entrepreneurs.

“We were surprised that sleep problems so consistently influenced the entrepreneurial intentions of people who know the challenges of starting a business,” Gunia said.

The paper concludes by saying that we need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of sleep problems. On the one hand, they may nudge people toward entrepreneurship. On the other, they may undermine entrepreneurial performance if they continue unabated.

Source: University of Central Florida


ADHD-Like Behaviors May Spur Entrepreneurial Activity

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). ADHD-Like Behaviors May Spur Entrepreneurial Activity. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Aug 2020 (Originally: 16 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Aug 2020
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