By: Devon Delfino Reviewed By: Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
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.
ADHD and Sleep Disturbances
If you live with symptoms of ADHD, you know getting a night of good sleep can be hard at times.
While sleep disturbances aren’t a formal ADHD symptom, researchers estimate that 75% of children and adults living with the condition do experience them in some form.
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
higher chance of developing sleep disorders
frequent sleep interruptions during the night
frequent nightmares, particularly in children
Not everyone with ADHD experiences sleep problems.
Research suggests that it may depend on the type of ADHD you have.
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.
ADHD and Sleep: What’s the Link?
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 2012 review found that sleep disturbances during childhood may increase the chance of someone developing ADHD later in life.
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.
Common Sleep Disorders in People with ADHD
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.
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.
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.
Insomnia Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it hard for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get good quality sleep in general.
Narcolepsy 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.
Tips to Get Better Sleep if you have ADHD
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
Pay attention to your caffeine intake
Try relaxation techniques
Avoid daytime naps
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.
Maintain a sleep schedule