Experts are working hard to explore the ties between ADHD and sleep.
Life can feel like a cycle of sleep deficit and fatigue for people with ADHD, who often find it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
When tired, your ADHD symptoms worsen and lead to sleeping issues.
Medications taken to manage ADHD symptoms – and the symptoms themselves – can interrupt sleep. The cycle continues.
Additional problems with ADHD and sleep can stem from a variety of factors, such as a bad schedule, eating before bed, or anxiety.
If you’re living with ADHD and looking for useful tips and information you can use to reduce both the long- and short-term effects of sleep loss due to your ADHD – you’re in the right place.
It’s important to understand why ADHD affects sleep. ADHD can begin to disturb sleep from around the age of 12 but doesn’t always correspond with other symptoms. However, ADHD and sleep issues can stay with you into adulthood.
Originally published on January 11, 2019, this post was republished on October 24, 2022.
Sleep Disorders Associated with ADHD
In addition to the aspects of daily life that can cause you sleep problems, several sleep disorders are associated with ADHD, including:
Insomnia affects many people. It can have many causes, including everyday stressors, an erratic schedule, or too much caffeine.
Studies show that many adults with ADHD have insomnia. From random bursts of energy as soon as you get into bed to being unable to get your brain to power down. Insomnia and ADHD can also cause you to lie awake in bed for too long before falling asleep.
It’s not just the act of falling asleep that can be muddied. Once people with ADHD fall asleep, it’s not always restful. Restlessness (some with ADHD twitch in their sleep) and being a light sleeper can come into the equation.
When sleep is broken up like this, it causes unwanted drowsiness the next day, making your day-to-day life more difficult, let alone dealing with ADHD too!
Almost a third of those with ADHD say they experienced sleep disorder-related breathing issues. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are both high on the list.
These types of ailments are associated with obesity. It’s a big issue, too, with around 40% of individuals with ADHD struggling with weight problems.
While studies are still ongoing, treatment of sleep apnea has been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome is a neurological problem that causes a tingling sensation in the lower limbs and an irresistible urge to move those limbs to achieve some kind of relief. This happens most often while people are asleep or resting.
In the US, a mere 2% of the population suffers from RLS in the general population, but when we look at those with ADHD, the issue spikes significantly.
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is the most commonly associated sleep disorder with ADHD. It involves the body’s circadian rhythm. DSPS happens when your body is out of sync with regular sleep-wake patterns. People with this disorder tend to fall asleep later and, as a result, wake up later.
DSPS usually results in daytime sleepiness, something you don’t want to deal with when you have to balance work and family. Not to mention, sleep is a primary element in reducing ADHD symptoms.
Tips for Adults with ADHD to Get Better Sleep
If you’re struggling with any of the above sleep disorders and ADHD, below is a list of tips to help you get some much-needed sleep.
Discovering how to put your sleeping pattern back on track is one of the best ways to ensure a better, happier, and healthier life with ADHD.
Create a Regular Bedtime and Wake-Up Routine
Go to bed at a set time every night and make sure you’re out of bed or awake by a set time every morning. This will do wonders to support healthy sleep and overall well-being.
Get Enough Exercise
ADHD typically means there’s more energy to play with. This is perfect because having a regular exercise routine is a proven way to help you get sound sleep. It also assists with staying asleep.
Experts recommend getting at least 30 to 40 minutes per day to help alleviate ADHD symptoms.
Leave Hyperfocused Activities for the Daytime
If you have ADHD, you know how easy it is to get wrapped up and hyperfocused on an activity you find stimulating – and how difficult it is to stop when it’s time for bed.
Leave those activities for the daytime to prevent disengagement issues around bedtime.
Take Warm Baths
Enjoying a warm bath is a great way to relax the muscles and soothe your state of mind. This is one of the oldest natural sleep aids!
Drink Herbal Tea
Herbal teas (those with no caffeine) are wonderful at helping create natural relaxation and a more seamless transition into the first stage of sleep. Chamomile and passionflower are two of the most effective.
Use Positive Mental Attitude Techniques
If racing thoughts are keeping you up at night, try some calming, positive mental techniques. Things like meditation, soothing music, or podcasts designed for sleep can help quiet your mind and relax your body for sleep.
Note: These tips are all known to work, but some will be more effective for certain individuals than others. It’s worth giving them all a chance to discover what works best for you and your needs.
1. Fadeuilhe, C., Daigre, C., Richarte, V., & Corrales, M. (2020). Insomnia Disorder in Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Patients: Clinical, Comorbidity, and Treatment Correlates. Frontiers in Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.663889
2. Youssef NA, Ege M, Angly SS, Strauss JL, Marx CE. Is obstructive sleep apnea associated with ADHD? Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2011 Aug;23(3):213-24. PMID: 21808754. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21808754/
3. Roy M, de Zwaan M, Tuin I, Philipsen A, Brähler E, Müller A. Association Between Restless Legs Syndrome and Adult ADHD in a German Community-Based Sample. J Atten Disord. 2018 Feb;22(3):300-308. doi: 10.1177/1087054714561291. Epub 2015 Jan 2. PMID: 25555628. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25555628/
4. van Andel E., Bijlenga D., Vogel SWN, Beekman ATF, Kooij JJS. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome in Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial on the Effects of Chronotherapy on Sleep. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 2022;0(0). doi:10.1177/07487304221124659