The Correlation Between ADHD And Sleep Issues In Adults

Did you know that diagnosing ADHD in children is often a challenge in itself as the effects have been shown to match those of sleep deprivation?

Often times this is similar for adults, and potentially worse, as 33% of adults report getting under 8 hours of sleep every day.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a mental disorder often associated with children and its effect on school performance. In reality it affects children and adults alike, especially considering children who experienced it grow up to be adults who still have to deal with the disorder in everyday life.

What is not often highlighted is the direct link between ADHD and sleep or lack thereof. Here we explore some the he facts surrounding this and how those who feel sleep is affected can try to get improved quality sleep. A lot has been said about ADHD and here is still much to be learnt about its causes and effects.

What Is ADHD?

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ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is classified as a neurobiological mental health disorder which begins in childhood and in many cases continues into adulthood. Like many mental disorders it can be identified by symptoms and behaviours.

Psychiatrists have attempted to draw 3 distinct categories from observed behaviours. These are Inattentive behaviours, Impulsive behaviours and hyperactive behaviours.

Anyone who may have been undiagnosed as a child for any variety of reasons may be living with it without knowing and could potentially be struggling with things such as poor attention span, fidgety behaviours and even anxiety. As an adult, anyone feeling such symptoms is advised to seek diagnosis of a physician or other healthcare professional.

Effects Of ADHD On Sleep Quality

Because of the cause and effect debate surround sleep deprivation in adults, it can be a complicated task diagnosing an adult with ADHD. This can be because adults are often in more situations that precede sleep deprivation such as sleeping late, working on projects outside work, socialising, all while maintaining the work routine.

Adults are likely to be lethargic, sleep deprived or insomniacs which could be a product of ADHD unlike in children where they will be hyperactive. These symptoms could also be totally unrelated to ADHD.

Many researchers are still uncertain as to why there is so much overlap between ADHD symptoms and sleep deprivation characteristics. The real indicator is in the statistics.

ADHD In Numbers

  • Estimated 10 million adults with ADHD
  • Equally in men and women, more in boy than girls
  • Up to 75% of children with ADHD have one or more notable sleep problems.
  • 75% of adults with ADHD report experiencing insomnia.

Sleep Problems Caused By ADHD

The following sleep disorders have been linked to the presence of ADHD, simply due to the significantly larger increase in occurrence of the sleep disorder when ADHD has been diagnosed.

Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder

This is a problem that occurs with the body clock – or more accurately the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is drastically altered usually resulting in later sleep that intended. Combined with regular schedules of work and life, this means waking times usually stay the same and there will be an overall lack of sleep each week, tied in with lower productivity and daytime sleepiness.


Insomnia – quite possibly receives the highest incidence of self-diagnosis among adults! It is the most widely known name associated with lack of sleep so there is no surprise that many people that get a lack of sleep use this term.

Regarding ADHD sufferers, a significant percentage experience sleep-onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep) and have reported feeling a sudden burst of energy as soon as they attempt to sleep. This eventually leads to taking upwards of one hour to actually fall asleep, compared to non-sufferers who on average sleep up to 15 minutes from getting into bed.

Up to 15 percent of children with ADHD suffer from sleep-onset insomnia (which is linked to low melatonin production), which increases to 50 percent during adolescence.

There is also the experience of sleep-maintenance insomnia. This is essentially sleep that is not restful. ADHD sufferers can become fitful or light sleepers, easily woken up by noise. This leads to drowsiness and difficulty waking up.

Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea is currently reported to affect around 3% of the population. This is a very small proportion which is put into perspective when we see that this number increases by 30% for individuals with ADHD. This means 1 in 3 ADHD sufferers report sleep-disordered breathing issues, including things such as snoring.

Restless Leg Syndrome

People who experience a tingling sensation in their lower limbs during sleep are said to have Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. With it comes a supposedly irresistible urge to move the legs in an attempt to find relief – all while they are apparently asleep. While the statistics show correlation rather than causation, restless leg syndrome affects around 2% of the general population which rises to an astounding 50% of individuals with ADHD.

While not as widely reported as Restless Leg Syndrome, Periodic Limb movement (PLMD) refers to a sudden movement occurring during sleep, and is generally strong enough to wake a person at an inconvenient time.

Natural Remedies

In all cases we cannot stress enough how important it is to consult your doctor for tailored advice on dealing with sleep issues and ADHD. There are however many natural remedies which have been trialed and tested by many, that do not always require medication.

Weighted Blankets

Weighted devices have long been used by researchers and psychologists to calm and settle children suffering from sensory disorders such as Autism and ADHD. There are many types of weighted devices used to fight autism in children, albeit a lot lighter than ones that would be useful for a fully grown adult.

As the popularity of weighted blankets among adults  has grown in recent years, there are plenty reviews and reports which have linked weighted blankets to aiding in the fight against the symptoms of sleep deprivation by alleviating anxiety by providing Deep Pressure Therapy.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBD has been effective at resolving sleep issues for a section of ADHD sufferers. It is a method of recognising your thought patterns and therefore enabling you to manage them.

The therapy is practiced in a multitude of ways; sleep restriction – sticking to a strict bedtime regimen from wake up time to bed time with no nap-taking allowed. The control exerted aims to rebalance your sleeping pattern by forcing you to stay I bed even when you do not sleep. Eventually your body will need to catch up sleep and learn to fit it into the strict bed time.

There are also relaxation exercises and stimulus control techniques such as meditation and deep breathing to train the mind to associate time spent in bed with sleep.

Relaxing Environment Theory

This is another area we discuss at length in this post. Many adults underestimate the power the environment (bedroom) has on the quality and even ability to sleep. Due to that lack of awareness, often times bedrooms are cluttered, and we fall into habits of leaving things on the bed, only changing our sheets, not using the best colours, all of which play a part.

White Noise Machines

White noise machines produce static sounds designed to calm the user by minimising noise from other items in the sleeping environment; think clocks ticking, fans in the summer, and beeping devices on standby etcetera…

The steady consistent noise produced by the white noise machine creates an environment that is neutral to the ear, and prevents the distraction of changing and inconsistent sounds.

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