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Do You Struggle With Sleep? ADHD Could Be the Culprit

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The connection between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and insomnia is widely acknowledged. Various factors, including ADHD symptoms, lifestyle choices, and even medications, can potentially play a role in these sleep disturbances. But how deep does this connection run?

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Understanding ADHD: A Brief Overview

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by persistent inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity patterns. It’s not just about occasional forgetfulness or energy spurts; for many, ADHD can influence various aspects of daily life, from managing tasks to maintaining relationships. Sleep disturbances, like insomnia, are just one facet of the broader challenges. ADHD-related sleep hygiene tips, understanding ADHD’s impact on circadian rhythms, and recognizing how ADHD influences deep sleep can offer insight into managing ADHD symptoms and sleep patterns more effectively.

Unraveling the Sleep Cycle

Sleep is a fundamental human function for rejuvenation, cognitive processing, and overall well-being. The human sleep cycle comprises several stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM phases. Each cycle, transitioning from light sleep to deep sleep and then REM, lasts approximately 90 minutes, with multiple cycles occurring throughout the night.

During the deep sleep cycle, the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. Meanwhile, REM sleep plays a vital role in brain function, aiding learning, memory, and mood regulation. Disruptions in this cycle, such as those potentially connected with ADHD and sleep disturbances, can impact not just night-time rest but overall health and daily functioning.

ADHD’s Influence on Sleep

The hyperactive component of ADHD may manifest as an overwhelming surge of energy when it’s time to wind down, making it challenging to initiate sleep.

Inattention, however, can lead to racing thoughts and difficulty shutting off the mind, resulting in prolonged wakefulness.

Mental and physical restlessness can further contribute to tossing, turning, and discomfort in bed. This restlessness also means waking up frequently during the night.

These combined factors can disrupt the natural progression of sleep stages, preventing the restorative effects of a complete sleep cycle. It’s essential to recognize this connection between ADHD and sleep patterns, as a disrupted sleep cycle can further exacerbate ADHD symptoms, creating a feedback loop that affects both night-time rest and daytime functioning.

Medications and Sleep

Many ADHD medications, particularly stimulants, are known to contribute to insomnia. These medications can boost alertness and energy, which, while helpful during the day, can become problematic when it’s time to wind down. The heightened alertness can push back the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it challenging to fall asleep.

Stimulants like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (like Adderall or Vyvanse) can heighten arousal. Non-stimulant medicines, like atomoxetine (Strattera), can sometimes cause sleep disturbances.

Here are some strategies and alternatives to counteract these side effects:

  • Timing: Take medication earlier to ensure it wears off by bedtime.
  • Medication adjustments: If sleep issues persist, consider discussing dose changes or alternative medications with your doctor.
  • Sleep hygiene: Create a bedtime routine, ensure a comfy sleep environment, and avoid screens or caffeine before sleep to enhance sleep quality.
  • Non-medication strategies: Think about using cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia.
  • Natural remedies: Melatonin or herbal teas might help, but consult a health professional first.

It’s important to remember the effect of medications on sleep.

Sleep Disorders and ADHD: The Common Links

People with ADHD often experience various sleep challenges.

  • Sleep apnea: This leads to fragmented sleep and daytime sleepiness, which can appear as inattentiveness in ADHD.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Causes leg discomfort, especially at night, making it hard to fall asleep. It’s distinct from the general restlessness seen in ADHD.
  • Circadian rhythm disorders: ADHD individuals may have disrupted body clocks, often leaning towards being night owls. This results in a delayed sleep phase, causing difficulties aligning with societal sleep norms and appearing as insomnia.
  • Narcolepsy: Some with ADHD may experience excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden sleep attacks, distinct from ADHD-induced sleep disturbances.

Understanding these conditions is crucial for recognizing the connection between ADHD and insomnia, how ADHD influences deep sleep, the role of ADHD in sleep cycle disruption, and managing bedtime routines with ADHD.

If you suspect you might also have a sleep disorder alongside ADHD, see a health care professional for an evaluation.

Insights from Sleep Studies

Research on the connection between ADHD and insomnia is extensive, revealing a multifaceted relationship between the two.

Many with ADHD face sleep challenges, with up to 75% experiencing disturbances like difficulty falling or staying asleep. Studies show that ADHD children enter REM sleep quicker, impacting sleep quality and daytime function. Sleep onset insomnia, linked to an internal clock delay, is prevalent in ADHD. Stimulant medications for ADHD can exacerbate insomnia. Persistent sleep issues in ADHD adults can amplify inattention, forming a feedback loop. This underscores the complex ADHD-sleep connection.

These findings, among others, paint a picture of the intricate relationship between ADHD and sleep.

Practical Tips for Better Sleep

Sleep disturbances can leave you feeling tired and compromise your ability to manage ADHD symptoms effectively. Let’s explore some actionable advice to help you improve sleep quality:

  1. Establish routine: Consistent bedtime and wind-down activities like reading or soft music.
  2. Optimize bedroom: Dark, cool, and quiet. Consider blackout curtains, eye masks, or earplugs.
  3. Diet awareness: Limit evening caffeine and sugar. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
  4. Regular exercise: Engage in physical activity, but not too close to bedtime.
  5. Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  6. Medication timing: Consult about optimal times to take ADHD meds to avoid sleep disruption.
  7. Professional help: Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other relevant therapies.
  8. Prioritize sleep hygiene: Set regular bedtimes and minimize daytime naps.

Remember, it’s all about finding what uniquely works for you. Be patient and persistent in your quest for better sleep.

ADHD and Insomnia in Different Age Groups

Here’s a concise breakdown of how ADHD-related insomnia can vary among children, teens, and adults:


  • Bedtime resistance: Unwillingness to go to bed or follow bedtime routines.
  • Sleep onset delay: Difficulty falling asleep once in bed.
  • Restlessness: Tossing, turning, or talking during sleep.
  • Nightmares or night terrors: Disturbing dreams causing waking or distress.


  • Delayed sleep phase: Preference for going to bed late and waking up late.
  • Increased daytime sleepiness: Struggling to stay awake in school or during the day.
  • Inconsistent sleep patterns: Big sleep duration differences between weekdays and weekends.
  • Impact on academics: Reduced focus and productivity in school due to tiredness.


  • Chronic insomnia: Persistent difficulties in falling and/or staying asleep.
  • Night-time restlessness: Waking frequently or lying awake for extended periods.
  • Impact on daily tasks: Tiredness affecting work performance, driving, or everyday tasks.
  • Compounded stress: Anxiety or stress about sleep, worsening the insomnia.

Understanding these age-specific manifestations can aid in targeting appropriate interventions and strategies for better sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a notable difference between ADHD and other sleep disorders?

Yes, while ADHD is primarily a neurodevelopmental disorder with sleep disturbances as a potential symptom, other sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, are conditions primarily characterized by sleep disruptions.

Can the causes of insomnia in ADHD be both biological and behavioral?

Absolutely. While biological factors are at play, such as brain chemistry and circadian rhythms, behavioral aspects like caffeine consumption, screen time, and lack of routine can also contribute to insomnia.

What are some potential treatments for ADHD-induced insomnia?

Beyond medication adjustments, treatments might include cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), melatonin supplements, or even light therapy for circadian rhythm disorders.

Can lifestyle changes for ADHD and insomnia make a significant difference?

Yes, lifestyle changes, like reducing caffeine intake, incorporating physical activity during the day, and ensuring a structured sleep routine, can significantly influence sleep quality in individuals with ADHD.

Are there differences in child vs. adult ADHD sleep issues specific to insomnia?

While both children and adults with ADHD can experience insomnia, children are often more prone to resistance at bedtime and waking up during the night. Adults might struggle more with difficulty falling asleep and early morning awakenings.

Does ADHD’s impact on sleep patterns in ADHD individuals vary with the severity of ADHD?

While every individual is unique, there’s evidence to suggest that those with more severe ADHD symptoms might experience more pronounced sleep disturbances.

How do sleep interventions for ADHD adults differ from those for children?

For adults, interventions include adjusting work schedules or employing cognitive-behavioral techniques. For children, it often involves earlier bedtimes, bedtime routines, and parent-led interventions.

Getty image by LaylaBird

Originally published: October 31, 2023
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