Dr. Amy Wolkin, a physical therapist based in Atlanta, GA, whose clinical interests are outpatient orthopedics, women’s health, and pediatric sports medicine wrote for Slumber Yard that if you or someone you love has ADHD, you know just how many areas of everyday life can be affected. In addition to the hallmark challenges of focusing at work or school, the majority of people affected by ADHD face irregular sleep patterns. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), three out of four children and four out of five adults with the condition also struggle with some type of sleep disorder.
So what causes those with ADHD to have such a hard time sleeping? Experts mostly point to the hyperactivity component of the condition, which can also manifest as fidgeting, difficulty sitting still, and talking excessively or over others. Hyperactivity can also make it extremely difficult to wind down at night if the body and mind continue to race instead of quieting in preparation for sleep.
Some of the most common sleep disorders associated with ADHD include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, a type of sleep-disordered breathing in which muscles surrounding the throat relax and block airways
- Restless leg syndrome, a neurological condition that causes discomfort when the legs are at rest
- Circadian-rhythm disorders, in which the body’s natural sleep patterns misalign with nighttime hours
For people with ADHD, the loss of sleep can be detrimental. Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation impairs cognitive function, further impacting the ability to pay attention. In children, the implications can be long-term, potentially leading to impaired brain development.
Thankfully, there are ways individuals with ADHD can do to try and maintain healthy sleeping habits. We’ve compiled science-based tips from the top doctors and ADHD experts to help you regain control of your sleep cycle and get the rest you deserve.
Not everyone experiences sleep disturbances caused by ADHD in the same way. For some people, problems start around bedtime with trouble getting to sleep. Some may have issues waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. Others have issues rolling out of bed in the morning to start the day on time. Of course, it’s also common to encounter some combination of these, since each directly impacts the other.
Before we get into the specific ways to address ADHD-related sleep issues, let’s look at exactly how ADHD may be wreaking havoc on your nightly routine.
Poor Sleep Latency
If you or your child has ADHD and struggles to fall asleep at night, you’re not alone. A Harvard study found that difficulty falling asleep is one of the most common sleep problems for those with the disorder. In children, this is often observed as resistance to set bedtimes.
As you might guess, ADHD medication can be a huge factor in insomnia. While these stimulants are designed to keep you focused during the day, the effects can sometimes last longer than intended and trickle into the night. One study showed that a third of children taking stimulants to treat ADHD showed signs of nightly insomnia, three times the rate of insomnia in untreated children with the disorder.